Helping Your Horse Avoid The Winter Blues
The arctic blast is upon us again. A horse exposed to wet cold weather will expend significantly more energy and burn more calories just to maintain body warmth. If a horse is not drinking enough water, he will reduce his food intake thus decreasing his energy level and ability to stay warm. Here are some food and water tips to keep your horse healthy and happy in the cold winter months.
Horses naturally tend to drink less water when the temperature drops. Water consumption is necessary to prevent impaction of ingested material in the intestinal tract, thereby avoiding colic.
- Make sure water sources aren’t frozen.
- Warm water to around 45-50 degrees F.
- Add water to feed.
- Sprinkle salt on feed to stimulate a thirst response.
- Use a heated watering system if you live in areas where the water will freeze.
- If you are using a submersible electric water heater check it daily to make sure it is not giving off voltage that could shock the horses when they try to drink.
Grass is very limited in winter and the ground may turn to mud or be frozen. A basic guideline of feeding enough hay to equal about 2% of the horse’s body weight and increase as needed when the temperature drops. Hay is digested in the gastrointestinal tract by fermentation, which produces heat that the horse can use to maintain core body temperature.
As a general rule, horses that shiver and regularly clean up every scrap of hay probably need to have their hay rations increased. Horses that leave some hay untouched might seem to have been overfed, but it is also possible they are leaving weeds, rough plants, or moldy flakes. Inspect the rejected material and purchase better quality hay if necessary.
Break larger feedings into several small meals spaced throughout the day. There is a variety of hay feeders designed to keep the horse eating and occupied for longer than when just putting out loose flakes of hay.
Pastured horses that eat hay in a group setting need to be monitored to be sure that low-status animals have adequate access to hay.
The senior horse, especially as dental health declines, may benefit from having chopped forages available. Water soaked hay cubes are a nice option as well. This will help to avoid the risk of choke. Supplements can be added to the soaked cubes to make a complete meal.