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Tips for feeding horses during winter

As you sit all cosy in front of your fireplace, you cant help but notice your horse huddled up under his tree or shelter with a miserable ‘I’m cold!’ look on his face. Apart from throwing on an extra rug, what can you do to help him feel better? Here’s a few tips to make the winter blues easier for your horse.

One of the most effective ways to help your horse warm up is to feed additional hay. The digestion of feedstuffs in the gut all produce internal heat whilst being digested, however, because the hay portion is digested by microbes in the hindgut (cecum and large intestine) they produce more internal heat than concentrates that are largely digested by enzymes in the small intestine. Even though concentrates contain a higher level of digestible energy, they do not give off as much heat in the digestive process.

For horses who are ‘hard keepers’ and on the light side weight wise, it may also be necessary to, not only supply free choice hay, but also to increase their daily concentrate ration.

Water is also extremely important in cold weather, the horse needs to stay well hydrated for optimal organ and metabolic function, also to guard against impaction colic and keep gut motility up. Horses generally prefer water temperatures between 7-18 degrees Celsius, therefore it may be necessary to provide warmed water for your horse to drink. If you live in a very cold area where the water gets icy overnight, it may be worthwhile investing in a small trough heater to keep the chill off!

Another good way to get extra water into your horse is to feed wet mashes. I often suggest to clients that they use a feed such as Maxisoy hi fibre pellets, not only is this feed a great low GI, safe feed for horses prone to metabolic disorders (such as insulin resistance/laminitis) they are also excellent at carrying supplements and water into your horse. In cold weather, a scoop of these pellets can carry up to 10 litres of water! Use hot water and ensure you let it soak for at least 10 minutes to full capacity before feeding.

And for next year, if your horse has a history of struggling with the cold through winter, or is prone to losing weight, ensure you build him up a bit before the cold weather sets in. Aim for a higher body condition score going into winter. This will not only provide a little extra insulation from the cold but will also provide him with extra calories to keep warm.

So, in summary:

  • Monitor the weather forecast and increase the hay portion of the diet 12-24 hours before the cold snap is expected or if it’s just the night getting cold give extra hay in the evening.
  • For ‘hard keepers’ it may be necessary to provide free choice hay and increase their daily concentrate ration.
  • Feed the concentrate, or a high capacity water carrier such as Maxisoy, as a warm wet mash to increase daily water intake.
  • If your troughs are freezing – provide warmed water for your horse to drink daily.
  • For horses with a history of losing weight over winter, prepare by aiming for a higher body condition score prior to the cold weather.