Fat is a natural insulator, so you don't want your horse losing weight during the winter.
A long winter coat can hide weight loss, so periodically feel your horse’s ribs to see if he’s holding his weight during the cold winter months. If he’s having trouble and he’s cleaning up everything you’re giving him, feed as much hay as he needs or will consume, increasing it gradually.
Feed it a couple of times a day during the winter to minimize waste, if you can. Remember that it’s the digestion of hay, not grain, that helps keep your horse warm. A cold horse will burn more calories and, when a horse’s coat is wet, it loses its insulating capacity. Consider blanketing your horse if he’s losing weight or cold (see January 2010 issue).
If your horse isn’t cleaning up, be sure the feed is OK. Warning signs of bad feed include:
- Off color or sour smell.
- Damp or clumps abnormally.
- Tinged with mold and/or dust.
If the feed seems OK, call your vet immediately. The horse may be ill.
Grain Considerations. If increasing hay alone is not enough, add grain. Start with about a half pound (about half a scoop) and increase to no more than 3 pounds of grain per feeding at a maximum of two to three times a day. Remember: Extruded feeds are easier for the horse to digest but weigh less than pellets or whole grains, so you may need to feed a larger volume of grain.
Consider a pro- or prebiotic product to increase the efficiency of fermentation, such as Forco (www.forcocolorado.com, 303-663-7115) or Ration Plus (www.cytozyme.com, 801-533-9208).
Water Consumption. Check water consumption, too. The more hay a horse eats, the more water he needs to consume. For example, if he’s eating 22 pounds of pay per day and weighs around 1100 pounds, he should be drinking between five to eight gallons of water per day. Snow will not suffice.
You can encourage water consumption by:
- Removing ice
- Providing warm water (but if you’re going to do this, you must do it consistently)
- Refresh water within an hour after feeding hay
- Adding 1 oz. (2 tablespoons) of salt to feed daily (start gradually)
Feeding a warm mash, soaked hay cubes or pellets. Wheat bran and beet pulp are both highly palatable and contain about the same calories as grain. Feed beet pulp as a mash, letting it soak in hot water for 20 minutes or so before feeding it. Substitute a scoop of beet pulp for a scoop of grain; introduce it to the horse gradually.
Beet pulp is especially good for horses not drinking enough water, as it will soak up four times its weight in water. Beet-pulp concentrates, like Pennfield’s Fibergized (www.pennfield.com, 800-732-0467) can also be soaked.
Bottom Line. Winter is no time to deal with a thin horse. Use small amounts of taste tempters—apples, carrots, brown sugar, corn oil, molasses, apple sauce, CocoSoya (www.uckele.com, 800-248-0330) or a few drops of peppermint extract or anise—to increase his interest. Ensure water consumption. Remember, fat is part of his natural defense against cold weather.