Can horses cope with sudden cold weather?
Horses can survive and even thrive in what we consider to be very inhospitable conditions, but they do need plenty of feed to fuel them and keep them warm.
When the temperature decreases horses need more calories to keep warm so it is important to ensure our horses have enough food to sustain them. For good doers this may be as simple as placing hay out in the field, but poorer doer’s may need extra support.
Forage feeding is ideal for all horses all year round, but it really comes into it’s own in colder weather. The fibre in quality forage is broken down by microbes in the hindgut. This fermentation process generates heat, providing our horses with their own in-built central heating! Cereals and low-quality fibre, such as that obtained from straw, cannot be utilised in the same way. So when it comes to keeping warm, ensuring you provide plenty of quality forage, such as hay or buckets of soaked HayCare, is essential for horses when it is cold and grazing is in short supply.
For good doers this method of feeding (when complemented with a forage balancer to top up those vitamins and minerals, like Simple Balance +), may be all they require to keep them healthy. As hay is typically less calorie dense than grazing, horses managed in this way are likely to lose some weight over the winter. This is natural and beneficial as it is thought to help protect against metabolic disease and the risk of laminitis.
Poor doers and harder working horses will require additional feeding to ensure they maintain a healthy condition, as they often struggle to consume enough calories from hay or haylage alone. For those who have done well on good grass previously or have very limited grass in winter, Blue Bag Grass Pellets are an obvious choice as they offer nutrition comparable to summer grazing.
If your horse needs more calories still (and they have a good appetite) you can simply increase the feeding rate of your existing Simple System feeds. Most of our forage feeds can be fed at up to 1% of ideal bodyweight per day i.e. 5kg per day for a 500kg horse. HayCare can be fed even more generously and given ad lib! When feeding a Simple System forage diet there is no limit to meal size as forage feeds are digested in the hindgut just like hay or grazing. It is perfectly safe to offer large buckets of soaked forage feeds, but this same generous feeding rate cannot be done with cereal based or high starch feeds.
For those with smaller appetites and those that like to be sensible with their budgets, consider ‘switching up’ your Simple System feed to one which is more calorie dense. Switch Blue Bag Grass Pellets for Red Bag Grass Pellets, Sainfoin Fibre Pellets for Sainfoin Pellets or Lucie Fibre Cubes for Lucie Nuts.
TopGain can be a useful addition in winter as it is a calorie dense combination of lucerne leaf and full fat cooked linseed. As a top-up feed you can give 100g per 100kg ideal bodyweight in addition to your usual Simple System feed to help build condition and top line. For any very poor doers or those whose weight can suddenly drop off, up to three times this amount can be given i.e. 1.5kg maximum for a 500kg horse.
So winter weight loss, good, bad or something else? Horses are all individuals and whilst losing weight in winter may suit those who have gained a few pounds in the summer, our poorer doing types and hard workers will require more feed to keep them happy, healthy and able to perform at their best this winter.
Tip | Keep a Simple System Weigh Tape at hand. This can be used to help monitor changes in weight.
If you would like tailored advice for your horse or pony, our Feed Line nutrition experts will be happy to help. Contact the team on 01728 604 088 or complete our online form.