As fall approaches, we bring back the sweaters, headbands and thicker socks, but what are you doing for your horse?
In most regions, the coming of the autumn season brings a drop in temperature and an increase in rain. Horse owners should begin to make any required changes to their horse’s feeding program to decrease the risk of any negative changes to overall health.
Last week, a reader inboxed me and had many questions and concerns about the coming change in weather. Here is what she said:
“Hi Erica. I struggle with my mare’s weight ALL the time, but every fall she just starts dropping weight like crazy and I become a blubbering mess! What can I do?”
If you are like this gal, then you KNOW you need to make adjustments going into the fall and winter months, but if your horse does not drop large amounts of weight…what else do you need to consider?
Here are my top pointers to consider when creating a plan to adjust the nutrition program for your horse.
Plus some extra secrets to give the extra help for the winter weight droppers if you can relate to the reader above.
If your horse has been out on pasture all summer consuming their needed forage amounts, then you will first need to start transitioning and supplying them with hay.
Forage is the #1 component of your horse’s diet, as it provides their daily nutritional needs and most importantly the required fiber. Fiber is essential and should not be understated! Valuable complex carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose are provided in the fiber your horse consumes, he uses this for energy.
Energy to stay warm in the cooler temperatures. The heat created by hay digestion is much greater than that of digesting concentrates (grains and mixed feeds). Which simply means that your horse is able to save energy needed to produce enough body heat by consuming hay.
Also, hay assists in preventing colic and other digestive upsets.
If hay is in short supply or poor quality, in the winter…
- Buy enough early to supply them minimums forage/fiber needs; any extra nutritive needs can be met by adding concentrates to the ration.
- Consider feeding an alternative forage source, such as hay cubes; usually, alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mixes pressed and dried. Or silage and haylage.
- Consider feeding an alternative fiber source such as beet pulp.
How much is enough?... A rough guideline is a 550kg (1,200 lb) horse should eat a minimum of 9-18 kg (20-40 lb) of hay a day. That is half to a full bale…a day! This is a general maintenance ration, so if you have a winter weight dropper this will need to be increased.
Ensure your horses always have access to fresh water. If the temperature drops below freezing in your region, then you must install water bucket heater to prevent ice. These are worth every penny and can help give you peace of mind. Once your heater is installed, check on it every day to see that it is operating properly and replenish the water.
Horses decrease their intake when the temperature drops. But their REQUIREMENT stays the same – at roughly 5 gallons (24 Quarts) a day. Your horse will actually need to consume more water *from the bucket in the winter, than in summer because they are getting no water from their hay, as they did from pasture grass in the summer.
Start to make a mental note of how much they are consuming in a 24 hour period, so if any drastic decreases occur, you can spot it right away!
Some horses will not drink really cold water, which will mean adding warm water might be necessary. Hopefully, you have a water heater in the barn which makes that chore much easier!
Also, consider providing electrolytes. Many people think of adding electrolytes in hot weather when the horse is sweating a lot, but they can be just as important for maintaining health during the cold months too. You can offer a feed-topping supplement or add to the water.
Simply put > Electrolytes encourage water intake. Water intake DECREASES the risk of colic!
MONITOR WEIGHT & BODY CONDITION
With the fuzzy winter coat, your horse works hard to grow, it can often make it difficult to judge their weight with just a once-over inspection while you feed (A perk of the sleek summer coats). This means you have to take active steps in monitoring your horse’s weight and taking a Body Condition Score. The Body Condition Score is an easy step-by-step way to estimate the fat present on the body, the KEY you need to make an accurate change to the feeding program. This requires you to un-blanket and touch your horse 😉 you’d be surprised how skinny some horses are under that poofy, thick hair coat.
GOAL > is to take these action steps every couple of weeks leading up to the change in season and during the cold months. Keep this information in an easy to read journal so that you can refer back to if needed.
What if my horse is under-weight?
- If your horse scores low (under-conditioned and under-weight) you must increase the forage they consume and/or change that forge to a more nutritious type of forage. This is higher quality hay or adding a legume such as alfalfa which will increase energy intake.
- Introduce a concentrate that is high-fiber based; like soaked sugar beet pulp or soaked alfalfa pellets or stabilized rice bran.
- Add additional calories (energy) and/or increase fat from adding concentrates (grain and grain mixes) to the ration.
- Increase the amount of beneficial fat in the diet by adding: stabilized rice bran, whole flax, whole roast soy.
- Consider additives to help them digest food more easily such as yeasts and probiotics. This is especially effective in senior horses. (always consult your veterinarian first)
It’s my hope that after reading this post you have a greater understanding of the best feeding practices when fall sets in.
Correct action in early in the fall can save you so much headache and money, and keep your horse from suffering unnecessary weight loss or unhealthy status.
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