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.