horses

Winter Horse Care

Every day we scoop a grain ration into our horse’s feed bucket and as long as he seems happy and in good weight we will probably keep on scooping that same ration day after day, season after season.  Oftentimes we do not take a step back from our horses and consider their changing needs in colder weather and  how this may affect our feed program.  In this blog we will offer some practical advice and factors to consider when feeding horses in cold weather.

What does cold weather mean to a horse?

Domestic horses have an ideal temperature range called the ‘Thermal Neutral’ temperature zone which is 30-50 degrees F.  For each 1 degree F below critical temperature, there is an increase in digestible energy requirements of 1% for body temperature maintenance.  This is why we need to feed more in cold weather.

hay-stretcher

How does a feed ration keep a horse warm?  A horse stays warm using digestion in the hind gut so a fiber rich diet allows the horse to create more heat.  The hind gut is defined as the part of the intestine from the Cecum to the end of the intestine.  The bacteria in the hind gut are specifically designed to break down fiber and will take as long as 3 days to ferment and digest fibrous feed material, meanwhile producing heat as a byproduct.  If there is not enough fiber in the daily ration the horse will get cold much more easily and burn fat to stay warm thus depleting fat reserves and losing body condition.  In the winter it can be difficult for some horses to put this weight back on because of the increased energy demand on their system.

Forage in a horse’s ration is generally hay or a hay extender product such as Blue Seal Hay Stretcher available at Koopman Lumber.  Forage should make up 75% of the daily ration with grain added as a supplement for the purposes of adding protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.  Horses need to consume 2% – 2.5% of their body weight in forages per day to maintain a healthy body condition.

Feeding the ‘Senior’ Horse

sentinel

Senior horses need minimum of 10% protein,  3-7 % fat and 14-20% fiber in their entire daily ration.  Blue Seal Sentinel Senior is a good choice to feed with adequate amounts of quality hay forage to keep the hind gut horses warm.

Older horses should not compete for feed and should be fed separately so they get their entire ration.  If a horse is chased off their feed they burn calories trying to intake calories which are not optimum in cold weather where weight maintenance or weight gain is the goal.

Are the horse’s teeth present and in good condition?  If the horse’s teeth cannot grind up his food or it falls out of his mouth onto the ground he will lose body condition.  Sentinel Senior is an extruded pellet which breaks down easily encouraging a better start on digestion with a reduced risk of choke.

Reading a Feed Tag

It is very important to understand the basic information printed on a feed tag in order to make an appropriate ration; the feed tag is sewn into the bottom seam of the bag.  Here is an example of Blue Seal Sentinel Senior feed tag (the purple bag shown above):

Sentinel Senior

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS:

Crude Protein, Min. . . . . . . . . . . .14.5 %
Lysine, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.65 %
Methionine, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . ..0.30 %
Threonine, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..0.50 %
Crude Fat, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.5 %
Crude Fiber, Max. . . . . . . . . . . . . 16.0 %
Calcium, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.65 %
Calcium, Max. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.15 %
Phosphorus, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . .  0.65 %
Copper, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55 ppm
Manganese, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 ppm
Selenium, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.55 ppm
Zinc, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 ppm
Vitamin A, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,000 IU/lb
Vitamin E, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 IU/lb
Biotin, Min. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  0.45 mg/lb
Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Min. . . . . . . 3.0 g/lb
Total Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Min. . . . . . . 17.0 g/lb
Total Bacillus Species, Min. . . . . . . . . . . 454 million cfu/lb
(Bacillus Lichenformis, Bacillus Subtilis) 

Consider that 25% of the horse’s dietary intake is most likely coming out of a feed bag.  We make ration decisions for our horses daily and very few of us know the basics of how to read a feed tag.  Most bags will have two numbers on the front or the top of the tag for example 12/6; this would express % protein / % fat.  So 12/6 would be 12% protein and 6% fat. Fiber is not commonly included with protein and fat but is no less important.

The reason these numbers matter.

horses-eatingProtein provides amino acids which are the building blocks of bones, muscles, and virtually all of the body's soft tissues, for growth and repair.   In this feed we have 14.5% Protein, for a senior horse to maintain muscle health; muscle wasting is a common issue with older horses.

Fat provides improved coat condition and energy reserves in the form of body fat; fat creates fat in the horse.  Sentinel Senior has 5.5% fat for weight maintenance.

Fiber makes the feed more valuable for heat production in the cold weather and keeps his hind gut (intestines behind the Secum) actively digesting to help prevent colic.  Sentinel Senior has 16% fiber for high digestibility.

Cold Weather Water Management

horses-drinkingWater is more important than feed to a horse’s health, in fact a horse can reach a point of critical dehydration quickly and in as little as 3 days and can die quickly from the effects of water deprivation such as impaction colic.  The average horse (1000 lbs) needs to drink 10 gallons of water per day to remain healthy.  If a horse runs out of water or the water freezes and a horse resorts to eating snow it must eat 6 x this amount in order to reach the daily requirement.  Since the snow is cold it takes energy to heat snow to body temperature (98-101 degrees F in horses) so this is a poor alternative to drinking fresh water.  If water is too cold (Under 45 degrees F) horses tend to not want to drink so water should be maintained at 45-65 degrees F.  Floating water heaters are readily available at Koopman Lumber and are very helpful in getting horses to drink enough water in cold weather.

Blanketing horses in winter-blankets trap body heat but do not create warmth.  Take blankets off daily and run hands over the horse’s barrel and hind quarters to feel for any changes in body condition.  In the cold weather horses can quickly lose condition, it can be difficult to re-gain what was lost especially in senior horses.  Blankets are useful tools in the winter but they block our view of the horse’s body so body condition changes can easily go unnoticed.  If a horse is body clipped blanketing is essential to make up for the loss in insulation provided by a natural hair coat.  If a horse is not in heavy work it is best to leave the hair coat unclipped to allow the horse to retain body heat naturally.  In extreme weather blankets can always be used for additional warmth as needed.

With just a little extra planning you can enjoy a happy healthy horse all winter long!  Happy trails!!

This blog post was written by Heather Holloway, Blue Seal Territory Sales Manager