As we close in on November, cold weather sweeps through horse country! For owners & managers, it’s important to stay in tune as the temperature drops and grass goes dormant. To keep horses warm, round, and comfortable through the winter, we often need to step in and adjust nutrition programs. Here are 4 key points to keep in mind when planning out cold season feeding!
A horse’s diet plays a major part in keeping him warm throughout the cold season. Specifically, fiber digestion and fermentation in the hind-gut generates heat that a horse utilizes for warmth. With this, we can do our part to keep hay in front of horses as much as possible throughout the day. In order to stay warm on a cold day, a 1000 lb horse may eat around 20-25 lbs of long stem forage, and a 1400 lb warmblood may eat 30-40 lb, IE- half a bale to a bale of hay.
For horses who need the calories with the heat mechanism, this feeding program may couple in assisting weight management via nutrition dense, quality forage. With the rounded horses though, it will be best to offer a more mature hay. In any case, remember that:
Welled Hayed Horse = Warm Happy Horse
If we peek out the window into a snowy field, it’s easy to see that the acclimated horse effectively thermo-regulates. Often, the horse will stand with snow on his back, a leg cocked, staring you in the nose from outside the cozy run-in shed.
In the case of a pansy-skinned horse though, the expense of keeping warm costs him energy (calories). Then we need to supplement the diet. Feeding nutrient rich hay such as less mature cool season grasses or alfalfa may be the best place to start in maintaining a hard keeper through the winter. Not only will it offer GIT warming, but it will provide bio-available nutrients and energy in bulk daily volume.
However, for a tight budget or a sugar sensitive horse, spreading supplementation across different parts of the diet may be more realistic. For example, look at The Well Horse‘s newest member, Ty. Bless his heart, his is in fact a pansy skinned, seal coated, lean built thoroughbred. He enjoys sunbathing and summer grass. Needless to say, we are already preparing his belly for winter! Where Ty lives on pasture 24/7, we’ve started pulling him in from the field for a few hours each day to feed him alfalfa hay. He will remain on 7 lbs of Tribute Kalm Ultra (12% fat) and 1lb of Essential K ration balancer (to be explained in the next point). If he ends up needing more, we can add 1 lb of a fat supplement. If it comes to this, we will turn to Tribute’s K Finish, a quality, digestible source of fat.
When the grass goes dormant, ensure to provide:
Protein, Vitamins, Minerals
For horses who rely on pasture for their daily nutrition, we typically supplement fields with round bales during the winter. The problem here becomes evident if horses begin to lose topline. Often times, field quality hay doesn’t retain the nutrient value present in green grass. Specifically, the hay may lack in protein, vitamins, and minerals. In this situation, it will help to supplement a horse’s diet with a ration balancer. At Dreamer’s Knoll Farm, we typically supply our horses with Essential K, but most feed companies will offer a formula featuring around 30% protein, 2% lysine, and extra concentrated vitamins and minerals. These can typically be fed at 1-3 lbs per day to top-dress a diet.
As a final note, and maybe the most important key to remember, when cool weather rolls around, horses don’t desire water like they do in the heat. Keeping horses hydrated in the winter keeps their entire body system functioning. Mixing electrolytes into meals or syringing them down daily will keep horses drinking, healthy, and happy. Salt based electrolytes are ideal, and honestly, straight salt or light salt (sodium chloride/potassium chloride) will often do the trick if the horse maintains on a quality nutrition program.