Preparing for Winter Starts Now
10 feeding tips to help your horse get through the cold winter months
1. Don’t rely on pasture as your horse’s sole source of nutrition in the winter, as it lacks adequate vitamins, minerals and, in some cases, energy.
2. As pastures fade, switch from green grass to dried hay slowly. It takes the horse’s digestive tract about two weeks to acclimate to new forage.
3. The best way to warm your horse up in cold weather is to feed additional good quality forage. Hay supports an increase in body temperature better than concentrates do, and hay is healthier too.
4. Winter pasture and dried forages lack essential vitamin E. To protect your horse’s antioxidant status when he can’t graze on green grass, supplement with natural vitamin E. Natural vitamin E (Elevate®) is superior to synthetic vitamin E because it is absorbed and retained in the tissues at a much higher rate.
5. Ensure your horse is drinking enough water in the cold weather. Horses need to drink a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons of water a day to stay healthy. Their requirements increase if they are ridden.
Here are 3 easy ways to ensure your horse is getting enough water in the winter:
Monitor the temperature of your horse’s drinking water. Don’t allow it to get too cold. The ideal temperature for drinking water is between 45°F (7°C) and 65°F (18°C). Offer even warmer water (up to 90°F/32°C) to senior horses or poor drinkers.
Add warm water to your normal textured or pelleted meal. (Avoid feeding the occasional “bran mash” as it can do more harm than good.)
Hay contains much less moisture than grass, so be sure you provide an unlimited source of clean water to encourage additional water intake. Soak hay in room temperature water and feed it moist when weather conditions permit.
6. Provide adequate levels of salt. Salt stimulates the thirst response and helps keep horses drinking. At rest, a horse should be eating about 2 oz of salt per day, either in the feed or from a salt block. If your horse continues to work during the winter, supplement with a well-balanced electrolyte (Summer Games® Electrolyte).
7. Help your horse stay warm when the temperature drops.
Horses begin to struggle to keep warm below certain temperatures. For a clipped horse, or one with a summer coat, the temperature is 41°F (5°C). For a horse with a thick winter coat, the temperature is 18°F (-8°C).
An easy guideline to follow is that a sedentary mature horse will need 2% more high-quality forage for every degree the temperature falls below the lower critical temperature. Small or older horses will be less tolerant of cold temperatures.
8. Keep an eye on the weather forecast so you can be prepared in advance for cold periods and storms.
9. Begin to feed additional forage at least 24 hours prior to periods of extreme cold or winter storms.
10. Try your best to stick to your normal feeding schedule during inclement weather. When making feed changes, do so slowly over several days, as this will decrease the risk of digestive upset.
Getting your feed room ready for winter
Here are five tips to make sure your feed room and hayloft are ready for winter.
1. Clean out your feed room.
A clean feed room will help to reduce feed losses due to insect and rodent damage. It will also give you more room to store and properly manage your feed, hay, and supplements.
2. Stockpile concentrates (sweet feed and pellets).
There is nothing worse than running out of feed in the middle of a winter storm. Planning ahead and keeping enough feed on hand will reduce the number of times you have to venture to the feed store on treacherous roads, or beg your farm store to send a truck out in dangerous weather.
3. Fill your hayloft with good quality fiber.
The best way to keep your horse warm in the cold weather is to offer him or her plenty of good quality forage. Having an adequate supply stashed away for the winter is optimal, but if you can’t store enough to last the season, be sure you have a reliable source lined up so you don’t run out.
4. Take a supplement inventory.
What supplements do you need to maintain your horse during the winter? Some horses require additional vitamins and minerals when pasture grasses are no longer available. Other horses need additional energy and digestive support during cold winter months. Take an inventory and order what you need so you have it on hand when your horse needs it. Check the expiration dates on the supplements you currently have. Discard all expired supplements. Review storage instructions to prevent damage from freezing.
5. Protect medications.
We all have an assortment of equine medications and supplements in our feed rooms. You are not going to have a good day when you reach for a medication only to find it has expired or is frozen. You also don’t want to run out at a crucial time. Inclement weather can stress horses and cause an uptick in injuries and illness, so be prepared! Review all your medications and toss those that are expired or damaged. Store them according to the directions on the container.
I live near Augusta, Georgia. I’m currently boarding at a facility where my horse is in a large gesture. During the summer he has plenty of grass to eat, but after the grass turns brown during the winter, shouldn’t he be getting hay? The owner of the barn refuses to give him hay she says he doesn’t need it. What advice can you give me?
Horses should consume 1.5% to 2% of their body weight (15 to 20 lbs for a 1,000 lb horse) in forage each day. Those requirements can be satisfied by good quality pasture, hay or other processed forages (hay cubes, pellets, etc.). Winter pasture might meet a horse’s basic energy needs if there is enough grass available; however, keep in mind that dormant grasses are typically low in nutrient value.
The University of Georgia Extension recommends the following stocking rates be followed. “Provide 2 acres of perennial pasture in non-cropping type land (north of fall line) and 1½ acres in cropping type land (south of fall line) for each mature horse. This is a general guideline and pasture productivity will vary greatly due to soil type, available moisture, forage species, fertility and many other variables.”
Overstocked pastures will not provide enough forage to sustain your horse in healthy condition. If you are unsure of the quality of your pasture, contact your local cooperative extension agent and see if they will assist you in evaluating the pasture. Here is a link to the county extension offices in Georgia: (http://extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm)
Little growth, if any, will occur in pasture grasses from December through February. It is a good idea to offer supplemental hay during these months. If at any time the pasture becomes overgrazed, or contains a high percentage of weeds, then hay should be offered. Hay should also be offered when the pasture is covered with snow or the weather becomes frigid (not likely in Georgia).
Monitoring your horse’s weight is a good way to determine if he is getting enough calories from the pasture. Additional hay should be fed if a horse is losing weight. Dormant pasture is lacking in natural vitamin E and other nutrients. Feeding a vitamin and mineral supplement (such as Micro-Phase) is suggested, especially if a horse is not eating the recommended amount of a fortified commercial feed. Even if fortified concentrates (grain or pellets) are fed, consider supplementing with additional natural vitamin E (such as Elevate Maintenance Powder) to meet vitamin E requirements during the winter months. Feeding natural vitamin E keeps the neuromuscular system healthy and supports a strong immune system.