WINTER FEEDING – HOW TO COPE

Lizzie Drury MSc RNutr

The onset of autumn is the time to start monitoring any fluctuations in your horse’s weight and body condition score. This will enable winter feeding programmes to be put in place before problems such as weight loss occur. For most of us the shorter days mean that it’s not possible to ride as often as we might like, and with the UK’s reputation for torrential downpours, many horses will also have restricted turnout. Feeding routines therefore need to take these factors in to consideration so that horses remain in optimum condition, a pleasure to handle and are kept occupied during times of stable confinement.

While very young, old or ailing horses may require specific changes in routine, healthy horses with good coats can usually tolerate the winter with few problems.

WATER

Always allow free access to fresh clean water. There are several factors that will affect a horse’s daily water intake, including the level of exercise, the type of diet that the horse is eating and the health of the horse (Cushing’s horses, for example, have increased water intake). Environmental temperature will also affect how much the horse drinks and when temperature decreases horses typically drink less. Maintaining sufficient water consumption is necessary to prevent impaction of ingested material in the intestinal tract so the following management steps may help.

• Provide a constant supply of water that is not too cold. Experts disagree on the ‘exact’ favourite temperature of water. While horses will drink water that is quite cold, water consumption is increased when water is warmed to around 45 – 50 degrees F.

• Make sure that water sources are not frozen either by installing insulated buckets or by frequently topping up with warm water. If you have a heated water tank, check to see that all the horses are using it regularly. Stray voltage that is too slight for humans to detect will deter some horses from drinking.

• Adding water to the feed is also a useful way of helping to maintain water intake, although of course, should not be relied upon. Soaking Saracen Super Fibre Cubes or using sugar beet are good ways of tempting appetites.

• Adding salt on a daily basis to feed will also help to keep the thirst response stimulated to maintain water intake. As salt is one of the only minerals for which horses have an undisputable appetite for, and therefore show a degree of nutritional wisdom regarding its intake, free access to a salt block should also be provided.

FORAGE

Forage should form the basis of every horses’ ration. This is extremely important and one rule that still unfortunately often gets overlooked. In many cases, condition, performance, and mental well being of many horses could be improved if some owners paid attention to EXACTLY how much forage their horses are eating.

Fermentation of fibre in the horse’s hindgut is the major heat source that keeps horses comfortable through the colder months and acts almost like his own internal radiator! Therefore, a steady supply of hay or haylage is crucial.

While some horses will continue to graze some pasture, this should be supplemented with good quality hay or haylage. The amount of forage given will vary depending on a horse’s size, metabolism and workload. At a minimum, start with the basic guideline of feeding enough hay to equal about 1.5 – 2% of the horse’s body weight (7 – 10kg for a 500Kg horse), and increase as needed when the temperature drops.

• If horses are regularly leaving a lot of hay, rather than assume that they are simply full, inspect the rejected material to check that the hay is not mouldy or just full of unpalatable weeds etc.

• If horses are living out in a group, make sure that hay piles are spread out enough to ensure that timid horses are in fact getting their share. A good idea is to also offer more piles to the number of horses.

• Horses that are stabled will also need plenty of forage not only to keep them warm and conditioned but also to help alleviate the boredom of confinement, which could otherwise lead to stable vices. “Good-doers” may need to have small holed haynets so that their consumption is controlled but their eating time extended.

Top Tip

For horses that spend a lot of their time stabled over the winter months it is often a good idea to provide them with some additional forage sources when they are stabled. It has been found that horses like to browse through a variety of different forage sources when stabled and this can help to reduce the risk of behavioural problems linked with increased stable time, as well as ensuring the horse is eating plenty of forage by encouraging their natural browsing behaviour. Alternative fibre sources such as chaff, chopped grass, Super Fibre Cubes and soaked sugarbeet can be placed in separate buckets and left around the stable for the horse to browse through, alongside the usual hay or haylage.

CONCENTRATE FEED

Feed little and often, feed subject to workload and temperament and body condition. Winter diets usually include concentrates for two reasons: nutrients and energy. Hay and dormant grasses don’t have the same nutritional value as fresh pasture, and this deficit can be overcome by feeding a fortified complete feed, such as a compound mix or cube. Horses that are working hard or consuming large amounts of hay but still not maintaining weight may require additional calories during the winter weather.

The type of concentrate depends upon the individual horse, and sometimes choosing the right one can seem like a minefield with the wide choice available. Feed company advice lines are a useful place to start if you are unsure. Feeds that contain sugar beet, soya hulls and alfalfa, so called “Super-Fibres”, together with a high oil level, are useful feeds for horses that have an excitable disposition or for those that are hard to keep condition on e.g. Saracen Conditioning Cubes. High fat supplements, such as rice bran e.g. EQUI-JEWEL® will boost the calorie density of a ration, helping to keep meal sizes to a minimum. Overweight horses that need vitamins and minerals in a low calorie package can be given a feed balancer e.g. Saracen Essential Balancer that provides only these nutrients plus quality protein and usually yeast and prebiotics.

Remember to feed no more than 2 Kg of concentrate feed at one time, breaking larger feedings in to several small feeds spaced throughout the day.

IDEAL WINTER FEEDS FROM SARACEN

CONDITIONING CUBES are unlike many other conditioning feeds, as these cubes do not contain barley, a cereal that can cause a ‘fizzy’ temperament. Equi-Jewel®, a high fat stabilized rice bran, has been carefully blended into the pencils to increase the calorific content through its high oil content and to also provide a source of essential fatty acids, helping to support healthy skin and coat shine. This is a non-heating formulation for all over body condition and optimal muscle tone.

RE-LEVE® is a high-performance mix which is suitable for horses and ponies prone to Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome. It is suitable for horses at every level and can be supplemented with Equi-Jewel® when more energy (Calories) are required. Soya hulls, alfalfa pellets and beet pulp supply oil and fibre as the energy sources, keeping starch to a bare minimum. It is fully fortified with amino acids, trace elements and yeast, as well as Vitamin E and selenium to assist normal muscle function.

SUPER FIBRE CUBES are a great way to increase the fibre content of the diet and they can be easily soaked to form a mash for horses and ponies that have difficulty chewing. The cubes have a low starch and sugar content and are cereal free. Soya oil is used within the cube to help with skin and coat condition. Over winter months feed some Super Fibre Cubes in a treat ball, or sprinkle them through piles of hay, to keep your horse or pony stimulated.

EQUI-JEWEL® is pelleted, high oil, stabilised rice bran supplement designed to increase the energy density of the whole diet, thereby decreasing the reliance on cereals in the diet. EQUI-JEWEL® is also an ideal product to improve topline and condition on your horse, whether you are bound for the show ring, require improved muscle tone, or are simply not carrying enough condition. EQUI-JEWEL® is fortified with the correct level of Vitamin E and ensures optimum calcium to phosphorus ratio.

ESSENTIAL BALANCER is low in sugar, starch and calories, so is suitable for horses and ponies that are ‘good doers’ and in particular native breeds of ponies. Dense in vitamins, minerals and quality protein sources, Essential Balancer helps to maintain muscle tone and topline as well as supporting optimum health and vitality. A source of Omega 3 fatty acids helps to condition and shine the coat, creating a picture of health inside and out.

If you would like a practical winter feeding plan created for your horse or pony please fill out our Feed Advice Form or call out nutritional team on 01622 718487 for some immediate advice.

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