I've noticed that the grass is growing more slowly in the last week or two. Unfortunately , the freezing weather we have had over the weekend will definitely put a stop to it. Tommy seems to be a bit of a scavenger though and is always finding some little snippits of grass in a corner that the others have missed. He also seems to still be putting on weight, although at a much slower rate now, luckily!
So, although I ran through much of this in my feeding blogs earlier in the year I thought it might be useful to have a look at the key points of feeding for the winter and how I apply them.
Horses still need to be fed plenty of bulk to keep their digestive systems happy. However, at this time of year the nutritional value of grass drops considerably. A few more weeks and the grass is usually in short supply. The easiest option for replacing the grass in the diet (and if your horse has to be stabled) is hay and check out my blog here for more on this and other roughage alternatives.
I try to save some of my field for December onwards (using electric fence) but this has still usually gone before the end of January. I always put hay out in the field during the day once the grass is gone. It is often messy but it means that the horses can get out of the stables into the fresh air, stretching their legs but still taking in food producing energy. They also have adlib hay in their stables overnight - although I have started restricting Tommy a bit due to his weight.
It is likely that in the winter you will need to supplement your horses diet to ensure that he is getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs. You could introduce a compound feed which will provide nutrients and energy in an easy form, but remember to introduce these slowly. If your horse has some hard feed throughout the year , you can increase the amount you are feeding, bearing in mind the horse's small stomach.
I feed the horses an alfalfa feed throughout the year (small amounts in the summer). I then increase the amount of their food slowly throughout the late Autumn whilst monitoring their weight. This gives them some extra nutrients and energy in a slow release form whilst continuing to provide bulk. Chesney also has a compound feed to supply him with extra energy in a more easily digestible form. As he is now an older horse he seems to be unable to utilise his food so easily.
It is worth considering that if you don't feed the recommended amounts your horse may still not be receiving the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals - so you may need to use a balancer or supplement as well.
Chesney receives the suggested amount of his compound feed. However, Basil and Tommy don't. So far I have not used balancers. Basil receives extra nutrients in his Farrier's Formula which I feel is enough currently. Tommy has a special lick in his stable which he can help himself to!
If necessary you can also add a mixer to your horses feed in the winter. These tend to supply more energy in an easily digestible form. Sugarbeet, linseed or oil are all good ways to get more energy ie: calories into your horse if he tends to lose condition/weight in the winter. TAKE CARE to prepare them correctly.
I have always added sugarbeet to my horses winter feed because it is a great source of energy. The amount depending on how much extra energy they need to ensure they don't lose too much weight. However, Basil is very, very keen on sugary foods and they tend to make him a bit 'fizzy' so I don't give him sugarbeet at all. I haven't tried the un-molassed version but he does not seem to need it. Tommy obviously does not need any extra calories!
Chesney also has some oil added to his feeds. Oil is a really digestible form of energy -make sure you introduce it slowly - which does not usually make horses 'fizzy'.
Remember to keep your water supply clean and available. Breaking any ice first thing in the morning and if necessary part way throughout the day. If your troughs and waterers are automatic make sure they are filling, as pipes tend to freeze. If the pipes are frozen you will need to supply buckets of fresh water daily. Adding water to the feeds or giving soaked sugarbeet is another way of providing water. Soaked hay also provides water although this has its own challenges in the freezing weather.
This is just about the worst bit about winter for me. I hate breaking the ice in the troughs in the dark every morning, scooping it out and getting really cold hands! Basil's wet haynets get icicles on them and I am sure he is not keen either. I give Basil water buckets whenever it is going to be a freezing night as I don't want him to run out of water if the pipes to his automatic waterer freeze. Chesney and Tommy have buckets anyway. Obviously when the taps freeze water has to be brought in too!
Your horse's body will generate heat as it takes in and digests food, so ensuring they have roughage readily available will help them keep warm. You could use warm water in their feeds too. If they are native breeds, are not clipped and have good thick coats then horses should not need rugs at all. However, horses that are clipped, Thoroughbreds and other thin skinned horses will need some protection and added warmth. Providing stabling or a field shelter is a great start. Rugging horses up is also a good way to keep them warm and dry.
As you are probably aware my horses come into the stables at night in the winter. Basil is clipped and as a Thoroughbred needs extra rugs to keep him warm. Tommy does not need a rug in the stable but I feel may need one on really cold wet days when he is out. Chesney is clipped too (because he gets hot running up and down when I ride Basil) so again needs a rug to keep him warm and dry in the field and warm in the stable.
Always remember that it is nature's way that animals, including horses, lose some weight in the winter because when the spring grass comes through they quickly regain it. If your horse does not lose any weight in the winter then he will start the year not needing the spring grass - you will be fighting a difficult battle against obesity. So don't worry if your horse loses some weight, use the body condition scoring system to help you.
Did you see last week's video 'How to .... get a horse used to a worming syringe' on my You Tube channel.
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Until next time!