Preparing and Feeding Your Horse Over Winter

When it is getting close to winter and you need to start planning to ensure your horse will maintain condition over the winter months. Horses generally can tolerate the cold. If a horse is healthy and has adequate shelter and is provided with a well formulated ration they can happily survive inside or outside during the winter months.

Some management and feeding techniques you can use to prepare and feed your horse over winter:

 

1. Assess the condition of your horse.

A condition score table can be useful to correctly asses the condition of your horse. A horse should be in moderately good to good condition leading into winter. i.e there should be cover over the ribs, wither and spine, a firm neck with no crest and a rounded rump. If your horse needs more condition, adjust the ration now. Once winter starts it is more difficult to put condition on, and a thinner horse can lose weight more readily than a well conditioned horse in the cold.


A woolly coat and rug can often disguise a horse that is losing condition. Assess and condition score your horse throughout the winter months to ensure his condition is being maintained.


2. Feeding

Plan what you need to feed during winter. The energy needs of a horse can increase by up to 50%, as the temperature drops and when the weather is wet and windy. To assist your horse in maintaining condition over winter the energy level of the ration can be increased in the following ways:


(i) Increasing the amount of concentrate fed will increase the energy and nutrient level of the ration. Feed a high energy complete feed that is highly digestible and provides a balanced ration when fed with adequate roughage such as BREEDA.


(ii) Add oil to the ration. Oil, such as PERFORMA 3 OIL is energy dense and is excellent for putting on condition. It is primarily digested in the 

small intestine reducing the amount of heat, acid and gas produced during the digestion process. Omega 3 oils aid in joint maintenance and keep red blood cells more supple, enhancing circulation. This is beneficial for horses of all ages over winter.

 

(iii) Pasture levels and the digestible energy of pastures drop over winter making it necessary to substitute the pasture with hand fed roughage in the form of meadow, oaten and lucerne hay/chaff.


Feeding a roughage or concentrate that increases the heat produced during the digestion process, helps to warm the horse on the inside. Different feeds produce varying 

amounts of heat during digestion and the diet can be modified to take advantage of these feeds. 66% of the energy in meadow hay is converted to heat during digestion, 42% in lucerne, 32% in oats and 20% in corn.

 

This heat can be used by your horse to warm it on the inside and tolerate colder temperatures on the outside. 

 

The comfort zone of a fasting horse is between 17oC and 36oC. By adding 5-6kg of hay this comfort zone is expanded to -8oC to 25oC. Therefore adding 2-3 extra biscuits of meadow hay to a horses ration over the winter months helps it to warm the horse on the inside.

 

3. Provide Adequate Shelter
Horses naturally huddle together in the cold to seek warmth and protection from the cold and wind. Providing a shelter or wind break to further protect the horse from the cold and wind will lower their energy needs. 

4. Use the horses inbuilt natural defence system

(i) A long thick coat grown over winter provides the horse with a natural blanket and is the horses first defence against the cold. If it gets wet the insulating value is decreased. Cold, windy, wet conditions can penetrate the coats insulation causing the horse to get cold.

 

A horse with a thick, dry winter coat is still comfortable when temperatures decrease to -8 oC. If the coat is wet or it is a summer coat then the horse will start to get cold when temperatures drop below 15oC. i.e clipped horses begin to shiver when the temperature is 10-15 oC higher than horses that have a  15 oC. i.e clipped horses begin to shiver when the temperature is 10-15 oC higher than horses that have a thick hair coat.

 
If the weather is wet, cold or windy a waterproof rug or adequate shelter will help insulate the horse against the cold.
 

(ii) If the temperature drops below a comfortable level for the horse it will start to shiver. Shivering, a temperature control mechanism, requires energy and if the ration does not provide adequate energy and nutrients to meet the horses needs it will lose body condition. You can also feel the horses ears. If the ears are cold, then the horse is cold.


5. Ensure horses have access to water
Often troughs and buckets are iced over in the morning and horses cannot access water. Check troughs and water buckets daily and remove any ice. Warming the water to 2-10oC can encourage drinking.

 

By feeding a concentrate such as BREEDA that is highly digested and well profiled and PERFORMA 3 OIL that is energy dense and well digested and incorporating planning,assessment and feeding techniques the condition and well being of your horse can be maintained over the winter months. For more information on feeding your horse please
contact Mitavite on: MitaviteEnquiries@inghams.com.au or our toll free number: 0508-648-284.