Here in the northern hemisphere, the leaves are changing and autumn is setting in, while it is the opposite for my cousins in Australia as they welcome Spring. Even though the hours of daylight are now dwindling, I love this time of year. It’s a time to rest, reflect, and plan for the coming year. A time of harvest and to give thanks for all of this year behind us….a time to prepare for the winter ahead including tarping hay, winterizing the barn, making needed roof or gutter cleaning and repairs, stacking our winter fire wood and checking our supplies. I make sure I have enough dog, cat, horse and human food on hand for two weeks at a time, just in case. I make sure there is gas and propane for the generator and I start the generator monthly to make sure it is operating and will be operating when needed.
Before we get in to the colder months older horses need to be fed more to get some winter weight on, because it is too hard to get it on them once it turns cold. Up their hay ration, up their bucket feed by adding some soaked alfalfa pellets and oats along with flax seed & or Chia. Always have a blanket on hand for the older horses in your herd just in case, even though you may not blanket one may be needed for them to maintain their body heat during the worst of winter cold.
As we move into the colder months though, I’ve learned that there are some important things to remember to ensure our horses stay healthy. Most horses are naturally well-equipped for cold weather, but they can benefit from a little help on our part. If you blanket make sure all blankets or rain sheets are in good repair.
Here are eight more tips for keeping your horse healthy this fall and winter:
- Invest in heated water buckets or a stock tank heater. (I know I said this in the last Fall Tips, but this is important.) Horses tend to drink less when it’s colder outside and this can lead to serious problems–aka, impaction colic. To encourage your horse to drink, provide a warmer water source for him. Water between 45 and 65 degrees is best. Even water troughs kept in the barn can freeze when temperatures drop.
- Make sure you have electrolytes on hand just in case your horse or mini needs to drink more, or in the event of colic so that you can put them in a wet bucket and hydrate them possibly helping to prevent an impaction. This time of year is hard on them if they come in from pasture and are on forage which is much dryer and can be difficult for some to digest, then add to that the fact that they are drinking less and it can be a vet visit because of digestive or tummy troubles.
- Feed loose salt loose salt either free choice or in your horse’s feed ration to encourage drinking. This should actually be done all year long to meet the horse’s sodium and chloride needs. Some people may assume that since the horse isn’t sweating in winter, he doesn’t need salt. This is just not true and could be detrimental for your horse. (Do not feed salt if you are feeding electrolytes, one or the other not both.)
- Feed a high-quality pre- or pro-biotic as your horse transitions from grass to hay. Pro-biotics add beneficial bacteria in the gut to aid the digestive process. Pre-biotics, on the other hand, are basically food for those good bacteria (so they can do their job). Either one of them can help with feed transitions such as that from grass to hay. Add Equine Zyme to their bucket feed as it has both pro-biotics and pre-biotics but also includes horse friendly digestive enzymes to help the digestive process especially when moving horses or mini’s from pasture to forage. This blend can also prevent gas colic.
- Maintain hoof care especially during the winter months, just because you are not riding or hoof growth slows does not mean you should neglect this care. Barefoot hooves provide the best traction in ice and snow, so if your horse is shod, pulling the shoes is a very wise idea.
- Provide Shelter for your horse, be it a run in shed, a barn or a lean too or a stand of trees in the pasture, a place for them to get out of the wind and or rain helps them to maintain body heat during stormy conditions.
- Pay Extra Attention to Senior Horses as they are the ones most at risk of dropping needed winter weight, which they need to stay warm, if needed add soaked hay cubes or pellets with soaked beet pulp and maybe some rice bran meal to help maintain their weight.
- As temperatures drop, increase your horse’s forage, not his concentrates to help him stay warm. Here is an excerpt from an article published by The University of Maine: “Forages contain a much higher fiber content than grains. Fiber is utilized through bacterial fermentation within the cecum and large intestine. Much more heat is produced in bacterial fiber fermentation than in digestion and absorption of nutrients within the small intestine (cereal grains). This results in a greater amount of heat being produced through the utilization of forages than utilization of grain. Thus, a horse’s increased energy requirements are better met by providing horses all the forage they will consume without waste.”
(When temperatures really drop, here is a good rule of thumb: For every 10 degrees F it is below freezing (32 degrees), increase your horse’s hay ration by 10%.)