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Winter-idled horses do fine with less grain, more forage
By Dr. Martin Adams
|Most horses have some down time in winter when adverse weather doesn't permit much riding. Nutritional needs can change dramatically, but there are some basic steps to follow to keep your horse in good health. |
On one hand, reduction in activity level usually means a reduced need for calories. On the other, the horse's caloric needs rise as the horse attempts to generate enough heat to maintain normal body temperature. But caloric needs are only slightly increased--10 to 20 percent over maintenance needs--for all but the most extreme conditions.
| Old-time horsemen thought that feeding corn during the winter months generated more body heat and helped alleviate cold weather stress. In reality, the horse's body generates more heat from the fermentation process in the hindgut as the result of eating forage (hay and grass). Feeding hay in place of some of the grain concentrate allows the horse to more easily maintain its body temperature. |
Substitute two pounds of hay for each pound of grain you decrease the horse's daily ration. If you are feeding less than .5 percent of your horse's body weight daily in grain (less than five pounds daily for a 1,000-pound horse), consider using a feed like Triple Crown Lite. This supplement provides the proper amounts of minerals and vitamins at a lower feeding rate (two pounds daily for a 1,000-pound horse).
Feeding two pounds of Triple Crown Lite and 17 pounds of a good-quality grass hay meets 110 percent of the maintenance energy needs of a mature horse, as well as the daily protein, mineral and vitamin requirements. It is an ideal winter ration for the relatively idle horse.
There is a greater incidence of impaction colic in horses with the onset of cold weather. This is mainly due to the horse becoming dehydrated because of reduced water consumption (no sweating), less water availability (frozen ponds, waterers and so on) and a diet (hay) that contains 10 percent water instead of one (pasture) that contains 80 percent water.
When horses drink cold water during the winter, their bodies expend additional calories to warm tissues back up from the resultant heat loss, so they instinctively drink less. Providing warm water, or using insulated buckets or insulated automatic waterers, will encourage the horse to consume more, keeping the fiber in the horse's lower digestive system more hydrated. Greater hydration allows fiber to be broken down more quickly by intestinal bacteria, making it less likely to cause a blockage in the large intestine.
Monitoring an unclipped horse's body condition can be difficult in the winter; checking "ribbiness" is hard to do through a winter coat.
Instead, every month or so, use a weight tape--or scale if available--and check weight maintenance. Adjust the feeding program accordingly, and get him back on the right track before warmer weather arrives.
The barn is likely to be closed up in winter. Good ventilation is more important than warmth, so be sure to have good air flow in your barn, even in winter.
Due to decreased ventilation, it is also important to be careful about feeding hay. Studies have shown that horses fed hay in nets above their heads will have an increased incidence of respiratory problems. Feed hay off the ground, or lower hay nets so that the respiratory tract can drain. Don't have hay nets so low that a horse can get his leg entangled.
Remember to provide a free-choice mineral supplement or add salt, mineral supplement or electrolytes to the feed to increase water consumption. Provide adequate exercise to aid gut motility and reduce the risk of colic.
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