During the winter months the environmental temperature and the animal’s critical temperature becomes an important consideration. The critical temperature is the temperature at which the animal must burn calories to produce additional heat to maintain its body temperature. Horses that go into winter in good flesh (body condition score of 5.5-6.0) and a well- developed winter hair coat can accommodate critical temperatures of 10-15o F. Horses in poor condition, or horses that have not developed a winter hair coat may have critical temperatures of 40-45o F.

With the lower temperatures of winter, horses will expend more calories to maintain normal body temperature. Thus, they will need additional feed calories to satisfy this increased use of calories. Increasing the amount of hay and /or concentrate feed or grain fed during the winter can serve to satisfy the additional calorie needs. For each 10o F the environmental temperature falls below a horse’s critical temperature they will have to consume approximately 10-20% more feed in order to maintain normal body temperature. If they cannot get those calories from feed, they will pull calories from their own body stores to keep warm resulting in a loss of body weight, and if underfeeding continues the horse is at an even greater health risk. The best nutritional approach to winter is to feed a well- balanced high quality diet prior to winter and begin to increase the total amount being fed as winter approaches so your horse is carrying a little extra condition going into the winter months. If the winter weather dictates additional feed needs to be provided, don’t change what you may be feeding, simply increase the amount you are feeding. This will maintain consistency in your horse’s diet. The exception to this approach is when a horse cannot consume enough of the diet being fed to maintain body temperature due to the diet being very low in energy, such as poor quality forage, or the horse has a limited capacity to consume enough forge, such as a young horse or a broodmare in late gestation. In these situations you may need to add additional grain or grain concentrate to the diet in order to meet the horse’s calorie requirement to stay warm. Some Excel Equine®® feeds to consider that can help enhance heat production in the horses body are those with higher fat levels and higher digestible fiber levels such as Trifiber,®Triplify® or Animate.®

In addition to the calorie content of the horse’s diet, another important aspect of your feeding program in preparing for and maintaining your horse through winter is the protein, vitamin and mineral quality of the diet. Horses can tolerate very cold temperatures when allowed to grow their natural winter hair coats. This hair coat is well designed to provide good insulation from cold temperatures. To help facilitate the growth of a good winter hair coat requires a well- balanced diet that provides adequate amounts of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, in addition to calories. Excel Equine®® has Enrichment,® which is an ideal feed to top dress your feed in the winter to provide a high quality source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Along with diet, management also is an important consideration in winter. Although a well fed horse’s hair coat provides excellent insulation in winter it loses much of its insulation value when it gets wet or the horse is exposed to windy conditions. Therefore it is important that horses have a place to get out of the wind, particularly in the northern climates when temperatures can fall far below zero and the winds can blow hard for days. Protection from windy conditions in winter does not have to be elaborate. A natural barrier of trees, brush or hill sides will often be sufficient. However, during the cold rainy conditions of the transition weeks of late fall / early winter and late winter / early spring, it is ideal if horses have some type of cover to stay dry. This is particularly important in some parts of the country that seem to have winters that frequently have cold rainy conditions. These types of winter conditions can be particularly stressful on all types of livestock including horses. Again, such facilities do not have to be elaborate. A simple three sided run in shed with a southern exposure works well.

Lastly, the management consideration that may most determine whether you call the vet or not this winter is making sure your horse drinks enough water. Mature horses in temperate climates will drink approximately 5 gallons of water per day. Increasing the amount of feed in winter to help maintain body temperature can increase desired water consumption up to as much as 10 gallons per day. Unfortunately, water consumption in winter can decline significantly due to several factors; 1.) drinking cold water when you are trying to maintain body warmth is not very inviting, even when you may be thirsty 2.) when the ground leading up to and around the water tank is thawed and wet, hoof traffic, once frozen solid from an overnight cold snap, leaves an unforgiving, rough, pot marked landscape that hurts a horses hoof and makes them hesitant to travel across for a drink 3.) if your water tank is exposed to the winds of winter, horses will hesitate to get a drink for the sake of exposing themselves to a cold harsh wind 4.) tank heaters are great to keep tanks thawed and water less frigid to drink, if they are plugged in and working 4.) tank heaters can sometimes wear, or be defective, and result in errant electrical currents that may not overtly shock but are enough to deter horses from drinking…monitor how much water leaves your tank daily…if you have an automatic waterer with a heating element, observe your horses, if they are eating snow then you better check you waterer. When you combine the potential decrease in water consumption with the increase in feed (dry matter) consumed to stay warm it can provide an unfortunate recipe for impaction colic! Nothing will turn you into Scrooge more than having to hook up your trailer at night in the middle of a blizzard, load your horse, and drive on snow packed icy roads to the vet clinic because your horse did not drink enough water.

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