Feeding Your Horse In The Winter

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As temps dip down and the weather stays cold, a horse’s nutritional requirements change. It’s best to have a horse be a tad over weight (maybe a 6-7 BCS) entering the winter and with a thick hair coat and fat cover.

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It has been estimated that a horse with a healthy winter coat, that can keep dry, will be comfortable at temperatures down to 18° F; and if the horse has access to a shelter it can tolerate temperatures as low as -40° F.

If you are lucky enough to be able to ride throughout the winter and clip your horse then understanding proper blanketing is a must!!

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As winter’s temperatures drop a good rule of thumb to remember is  for every degree below 18°F the horse requires an additional 1% energy in their diet.   This might prompt you to ask, “what is the best source of additional dietary energy during the cold winter months?”

Good question! But first we must understand how horses utilize the dietary energy in the winter to keep warm.  They do it in a couple of different ways. First, there is the heat given off as a by-product of normal metabolic processes. Secondly, there is the heat generated from microbial fermentation of forages that occurs in the hindgut during digestion.

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Some horse owners believe that feeding more concentrates (because they are energy dense), will help keep the horse warmer. But this isn’t how the horse was designed. We must remember that horses are designed to eat fiber/forage.  Another reason to not focus on grain for heat is that there isn’t as much heat produced as a byproduct of digestion, absorption and utilization of grains as there is from the microbial fermentation of forages.

So, you should think about increasing the amount of forage in the diet NOT GRAIN to help meet the increasing energy needs resulting from winter weather.  This will result in an increase in microbial fermentation which will help keep the horse warm.

 

Here’s an example, if a 1000 lb horse needed 16 lbs of good-quality hay each day when the temperature was 18° F, its requirement could be expected to increase by approximately 2 – 2.5 lbs to 18 -18.5 lbs if the temperature dropped to 0° F.  Note: The increased dietary energy requirement would be even greater if the horse didn’t have access to shelter.

An additional very important point to consider is the need to provide access to clean, “warm” water.  There was a study that determined that the most pleasing temperature of water for a horse is 45-65 degrees. So bucket warmers, and insulated troughs are great ideas to use in the winter. If the water is ice cold, the horse will not drink as much.

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There are a few reasons beyond the obvious why good water intake is so important. A horse will require a lot more water when eating dried feedstuffs like hay, compared to horses grazing on lush pasture as pasture grass has water in it.  In addition, horses usually move less in the winter due to lack of exercise and confinement. Movement aides in digestion and keeps things moving through the gut.  Water also helps this process. The goal should always be to maximize water consumption to help prevent the possibility of dehydration and colic.

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Winter adds an extra layer of concern for your horse’s health and nutrition needs. Simple rules such as increased forage and water intake will go a long way to help insure you both survive the coldest months!

Peace and good feed,

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The Equine Nutrition Nerd

 

Seasonally Toxic Plants for Horses

A close up of a funny grey horse eating green plants

With winter fast approaching in parts of the US, it’s a good time to review the affects that frost can have on certain plants horses may grass on.

Some deciduous leaves can be deadly after a frost or after they have wilted due to broken branches, fall leaf shed or storm damage. Leaves that tend to be most toxic are those of red maple and cherry trees.

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RED MAPLE LEAF

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Choke Cherry Leaf-Fall Color

This a good time of year to identify any seasonally toxic trees on your property, and keep horses from their fallen or frost damaged leaves for at least 30 days.

Even though these leaves are not commonly eaten, horses can accidentally ingest them, especially if hungry or bored.  HorseDVM has a terrific site with symptoms, identification, and treatments.

Here is a link to all you need to know about Horses and Red Maple

Here is a link to all you need to know about Horses and Cherry Trees

Nitrate toxicity can also be an issue after frost with some nitrate-accumulating plants. Generally, this is only a concern with some grass species where high nitrogen has been used and with some weeds that are know to be nitrate accumulators like lambsquarter and pigweed.

It is recommended that horse owners wait up to a week after a killing frost before grazing areas where nitrate toxicity is a concern. Prussic acid accumulation can also be an issue after a frost with some specific warm-season annual grasses like sorghum and sudan grasses, but these grasses aren’t commonly grazed by horses or fed in horse quality hay.

Here is a link to a full list of equine poisonous plants (not just after frost) from HorseDVM

Poisonous Plants For Horses Database

I hope you NEVER have to deal with toxicity from plants with your horse! Please share this post so other horse owners are aware too.

Peace and Good Feed,

The Nerd

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Horse Feeding Myths & Misconceptions

Occasionally I will post an article from one of my friends in the equine nutrition field. One of the best of the best is Dr. Marty Adams.  I learn something every time I am with Marty.  Here is a great article he wrote about some of the common Myths & Misconceptions in feeding your horse.  Hope you learn something too 🙂

By: Dr. Marty Adams (PhD Equine Nutrition)

“Compared to most classes of livestock, there seems to be more myths and misconceptions when it comes to feeding horses. Many of these feeding myths appear to be long-held traditions that have been passed down from horse owner to horse owner. These myths or misconceptions are likely due to the fear of harming the horse, a lack of understanding of the feedstuff or the feeding practice, or thinking that the horse’s digestive system or nutrient requirements are similar to that of the human horseman. The old adage that “It’s always been done this way!” can be a powerful argument in keeping a tradition alive, in spite of scientific fact. We now have some scientific evidence that some of these “horse tales” are not true and may be harmful to the horse, so let’s review some of the most common horse feeding myths and misconceptions. Continue reading