Winter is here, along with the snowy, cold weather that comes with it. Sometimes it can be challenging to determine what to feed and how much to feed your horse during the winter months. Horses often have other health and environmental concerns that require a change in diet for the colder seasons compared to the warmer seasons. Here are seven tips to help you understand your horse's needs this winter to create the best feeding conditions possible.
Check Body Condition
How much a horse may need to eat can be determined by their body condition score. It is on a 9-point scale, with the ideal score being 5. It shows how much body fat is on your horse and should be conducted yearly around the fall/winter seasons. Heavier horses have higher energy reserves, so they will not require as many calories as normal or underweight horses. These over-conditioned horses have more insulation from having better fatty tissue that protects them from the cold. Under-conditioned horses will need more food to keep their energy reserves higher to keep them warm. Weight loss may be hard to see over long hair coats, so it is important to feel their neck and ribs to check. Figuring out their score will determine how much they need to eat.
Recognize Health Concerns
Before winter arrives, it is essential to schedule regular vet checks to prevent any potential health issues from progressing. Weather and various dental troubles can contribute to a horse’s metabolic processes and gut health. Keep your horse healthy this winter and consistently with health checks to ensure their bodies are correctly digesting their food.
Feed Enough to Meet Energy Needs
There are a few ways to maintain your horses’ energy through their feed. Whatever forage you choose to feed your horse should be selected based on their needs. This may include hay, straw, pellets or cubes, silage, and haylage, and your horse should be consuming 1.5% to 3% of their body weight in forage. Some horses may need legume-rich hay to gain weight; otherwise, it should not be given to adequately conditioned horses. By feeding your horses enough forage, their bodies will be heated internally with reserved energy.
Observe Gut Health
Gut health affects the way your horse digests their feed. During the winter, there is less access to pastures and lowered chances of your horses eating forage. Feeding your horse concentrates, intermittent feeding, and reduced turnout may give them gastric ulcers and hindgut dysbiosis. To prevent gastric ulcers, give your horse access to forage at all times and attempt to reduce their stress if possible. Our product, Happ-E-Mare, is recommended for anxious and stressed mares and offers a tasty, all-natural blend to keep your mare calm and relaxed throughout her reproductive cycles. Maintaining your equine’s digestive tract and gut health will help your horse to stay warm naturally.
Meet Vitamin and Mineral Requirements
Vitamins and minerals should be given to your horse in addition to forage. Some nutrients that should be given to your horse include amino acids, B vitamins, zinc, copper, selenium, and vitamin E. These nutrients support the metabolic processes carried out by enzymes in your horse, so make sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. And don’t forget, our product Health-E holds the world record for the highest Vitamin E levels in a horse supplement!
Provide Constant Availability of Water
Horses should be encouraged to drink plenty of water during the winter to prevent dehydration. Even though they consume about 14% less water in the winter than in the summer, they should still be well-hydrated to support gut motility. To keep your equine drinking, warm up their water buckets at least twice a day with hot water, or use a heater to keep it warm. Feeding them loose salt will make them thirsty and get them to drink more water. Another way to give your equine more water is to provide warm, soaked forage.
Be Aware of LCT
Awareness of your horse's LCT, or Lower Critical Temperature, is another essential factor. Typically, healthy horses have an LCT of 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the horse, it may need an increase in the calories supplied. Feed your horse accordingly and use your horse's weight and body condition score to see how much energy they need to receive during the winter. Increase your horse's intake by 2.5% per degree celsius and decrease below the LCT to maintain its current weight through the required digestible energy intake.
Food significantly impacts your horse’s overall health, especially during the winter months. Our goal at Equine Medical and Surgical Associates is to provide guidance in keeping your horse warm, happy, and in peak health this winter and always. Visit our website for more information on our products. We hope you and your horse have a safe and happy holiday!