By Heather Zorn P.A.S
While the cold weather makes daily chores more difficult to compete, there are some simple steps you take to ensure the continued health of your horses over the winter.
1. Watch drinking water and monitor consumption. Horses generally tend to drink less over the winter. They do not sweat (unless they are over-blanketed) and do not need to replenish hydration from sweat loss. Many horses also have a preference of water temperature and may not drink enough if the water is too cold. It's a good idea to know approximately how much water each horse drinks during a 24-hour period.
-Install water de-icers or heater in water tanks to keep the fresh water flowing, while making it palatable for those that prefer warmer water. This will also make your daily task easier by not having to break up and remove ice.
2. Do not suddenly change feeding practices on a cold night. Remember that horses are fermenters and rely on a healthy bacteria population in the gut to digest their food efficiently. While you might feel you are doing a good thing by adding a nice, big warm bran mash, if your horse does not normally eat bran you can do more harm than good. The bacteria required to digest hay and hay pellets/cubes is different than the bacteria needed to digest bran (starch). You can actually cause an upset in the digestion process by introducing new foods suddenly.
-If it is going to be a cold night, simply add more to their ration of hay. The fermenting process produces heat and will assist in keeping your horse warm.
3. Keep (or add) salt to their diet. Salt triggers the "thirst button" and will tell your horse's body to drink and rehydrate. You should be giving at least two tablespoons a day. If you are adding salt to the diet for the first time, introduce it slowly so not to put your horse off his feed.
4. Monitor body condition. Older horses and those will any dental issues may experience weight loss in the cold weather. This is due to the extra energy required to keep warm. When temperatures drop, more energy is diverted into heating the body and there will be no excess to sustain body condition.
-If you find weight loss or decrease in body condition occurring, increase the hay ration. While 2% of body weight is a good standard to use day in and day out, it may not be enough for certain breeds or aging horses.
Heather is a nutritionist for Animal Nutrition Solutions, who emphasizes education of her clients above all else. Being an educated consumer allows you to make decisions based on your own horses and ensure his continued health.