Burr! The weather has already taken some cold spells. Has your horse noticed? Horses are good at adjusting to cold weather. Some simple modifications to diet and management can help ensure that your horses stay comfortable and healthy.
Diet: Your horse may want to increase forage intake during cold weather. Microbial fermentation breaks down hay in the horse’s cecum. This process generates heat. Horses may increase their forage intake to naturally warm themselves. To help this process make sure your horses have plenty of hay. Increased hay consumption necessitates increased water intake. Too much hay with too little water increases the chance of impaction colic. Make sure plenty of water is available and that water sources are not frozen. Where water heaters are used, even the smallest amount of electrical current being released in the water will cause some horses to shy away from water sources and decrease drinking.
Insulation: A horse’s hormonal system controls the thickness of a horse’s coat. Daylight triggers this hormonal system. Toward the colder months, days shorten, and the hormonal system causes the development of a winter coat. A dry winter coat can keep horses comfortable at temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Artificial light can cause a horse to keep its wet, summer coat. With this coat, horses become uncomfortable at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fat layers also provide important insulation. If hay and grazing alone do not put a good fat layer on your horse, increase the amount of grain fed. Horses with a body condition score of less than 5.5 should be provided with protection from the cold. A common misconception is that corn, often called a “hot feed,” will increase the horse’s body heat. Corn is a good source of calories and can help with the fat layer. However, only forage such as hay will generate appreciable heat during the digestion process. If your horse does not tolerate well increases in grain, call Healing Springs to discuss other nutritional options.
Shelter: Shelter can go a long way toward increasing the comfort and health of a horse during winter. Even a simple, three-sided shelter will help protect horses from wind, rain, and snow.