Top tips for horse feeding in winter
The colder months can mean a diet change due to lack of turnout, reduced training and competing, and an alteration to hay rations. Here’s Katie’s round-up of top tips for winter feeding.
1. In-stable entertainment
Stabling for longer means you need to feed more forage. Research has shown that offering a variety of forages and fibrous materials provides a more stimulating environment. Put chopped carrots in tubs of fibre feeds alongside hay/haylage and hang swedes or hazel twigs around the stable to allow your horse to eat more naturally.
2. The low-fizz option
Cold or windy weather seems to excite horses and ponies, especially if they are clipped and stabling for longe periods, and can also result in a livelier ride. To try and combat this, use fibre and oil as energy sources in the ration as they provide slow-release energy compared to the starch found in cereals. Even low-energy mixes and cubes can contain a lot of starch, so switch them for a fibre feed for the same level of energy without the fizz.
3. Little and often, especially for those with ulcers
We all know the rule feeding little and often when it comes to bucket feed, but it can also apply to forage. Nearly all horses and ponies can be fed ad lib forage but if you have a good doer, this may result in weight gain. The aim with good doers is to keep the period of time without any forage as short as possible to reduce the risk of ulcers, so little and often is the way forward. If you can’t get to the yard at lunchtime or last thing in the evening, why not work together with others on the yard and take it in turns to leave later or do a late visit?
4. Weigh your horse, weigh your feed
Feeding too little is an obvious reason why horses lose weight in the winter, but it is surprising how often it is the case. If you haven’t weighed your feed or your horse lately, now is the time to do it so you can spot if things change quickly. If your horse lost weight last winter, introduce a more conditioning feed as soon as the grass quality declines or the weather gets colder and slowly increase it.
5. Respiratory health
Increased time spent in the stable can, potentially, increase their exposure to respirable particles, which can be detrimental to respiratory health. Respirable particles include mould, among other things, and even hay and straw that look and smell fine to us can still contain a significant mould count and have the potential to do harm. Dengie Performance Fibre combines precision-dried grasses and alfalfa with a light molasses and oil coating with added spearmint oil. As both the grasses and alfalfa are precision-dried, Performance Fibre provides an exceptionally clean fibre source for the performance horse, is soft, highly palatable and can also be used as a partial forage replacer.
6. Horses still sweat in winter
Just because it’s colder doesn’t mean you don’t need to supplement with electrolytes if your horse is working. Competing and travelling use electrolytes and so feeding a supplement will help to reduce the risk of early onset of fatigue and muscle problems.
7. Drink up
When it’s really cold, some horses can be put off drinking, which increases the risk of dehydration and colic. Adding a flavouring may help or simply making the water warm can encourage some horses to drink. Using soaked feeds, such as Dengie Alfa-Beet, is another way to encourage the horse to take in extra moisture.
8. Highly digestible fibre
The change from grass, which is highly digestible, to hay or haylage, which are much less digestible, can be one of the reasons horses lose weight in winter. Adding soaked sugar beet or Dengie Alfa-Beet, which combines sugar beet with alfalfa, provides additional highly digestible fibre.
9. Alternatives to soaking hay
Soaking hay can be a real chore in winter as taps and soaking buckets freeze up. Steaming is one option and research has shown that steaming in a commercial steamer reduced respirable particles just as effectively as soaking but also had the added benefit of reducing the number of bacteria in the hay too.
10. A late spring clean
Check all the feeds and supplements that have accumulated in your feed room over the last few months. It’s always a good idea to check that everything is correctly labelled if it is in bins and that your horse’s feeding plan is easy to find – then if you can’t make it to the yard for any reason, others can easily do it for you.
Article originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of British Eventing Life magazine