Horses require extra attention during winter’s coldest temperatures

As the temperatures decrease, a horse’s feed requirements increase. Consider taking the following measures to ensure the safety and health of your horse.

The next few days will bring the coldest weather we’ve seen this winter, and with that comes the need for extra care and attention for horses, donkeys, ponies, mules and any other outdoor animals. As the temperatures decrease, a horse’s feed requirements increase. Allowing horses free choice to good quality forage (hay) is the surest way to ensure that they consume enough energy, and the process of digesting forage will actually produce heat. Horses will typically consume 2 to 2.5 percent of their body weight in forage; that would be 25 pounds per day for a 1,000 pound horse. Winter pasture alone will not provide enough forage to sustain a horse and therefore must be supplemented with hay and/or grain.

Given the growing season we had last year, some available hay is overly stemmy or fibrous, and hence of lower digestibility than previous years. As a result, making certain that horses are supplemented with grain when fed lower quality hay will help them maintain body weight and condition, a key factor in withstanding cold temperatures.

Finally, constant access to clean, fresh water at 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit is an absolute necessity to keeping horses healthy. This can be achieved via heated tanks or buckets, or by filling a tank, letting it freeze, cutting an access hole in the frozen surface, and then always filling the tank to below the level of the hole from that point on. This provides a “self-insulating” function and will typically keep the water below from freezing.

Additional ways to keep horses comfortable in cold weather include making sure they have access to shelter. A well-bedded, three-sided shed facing south or east will typically provide adequate protection from wind and snow, as can appropriate bluffs or treed areas.

When the temperatures get colder, mature horses will not typically move around much in an effort to conserve energy. Making an attempt to keep hay, shelter and water fairly close together can limit the energy expenditure required, thus conserving body condition. Keeping horses at a body condition score of 5 or 6 will improve conception rates for those choosing to breed horses, and prevent surprises when horses shed their winter hair in the spring.

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