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Feeding horses appropriately during winter — Blair Lybbert, DVM

Maintaining horses in good body condition during winter can be tricky. For many there is a balancing act between trying to keep horses healthy while avoiding hay wastage and keeping costs down. 

Keeping the following in mind will help:

  • Heat gain (from calories converted to heat) must exceed heat loss (to the air) or a horse will lose weight.
  • Providing good shelter can decrease heat loss by 20% (which means fewer calories are required).
  • In general, once temperatures get below 32° F for healthy growing horses and 5° F for healthy adult horses, additional quality roughage needs to be provided.  For example, a 1000 lb. horse’s diet should be increased from 20-25lbs of hay a day to 23-29lbs a day if the temperature drops to 0°F. Feed appropriately for the individual horse.
  • Horses generally will eat to meet their energy requirements; therefore, free choice hay is the simplest way to ensure that the horse will meet its energy requirements adequately. Slow feeding systems should be considered for many horses; especially for those with certain medical conditions.
  • Of course, horses with good teeth, a low parasite burden, and a colon free of accumulated sand will use feed more efficiently.

Don’t forget to feel for “ribbiness” regularly; long coats and blankets can hide weight loss. 

Stay warm!