Winter’s coming! What do YOU do differently to properly feed your horse?
Here are some things to consider:
1. The horse, like all mammals, regulates its body temperature very closely. In colder weather, it takes more energy to maintain property body temperature.
2. The horse’s hind gut ferments fiber, which creates heat. Hay helps keep your horse warm. Increasing their hay ration is a good way to keep them comfortable.
3. Grass is the horse’s super-food. It contains almost all of the nutrients the horse needs to survive. Almost. But when the grass dies, it loses a lot of those nutrients. Hay has almost no vitamin E or vitamin A, and although those vitamins are stored in the body for later use, it’s a good idea to supplement them during the winter. And, while grass has a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids, hay contains significantly less.
4. Depending on many, many factors, the nutrient content in hay varies greatly. Grass hay might be 12% protein, or it may be 6% protein. Similarly, it could contain 6% starch and sugar or 15%. And so on. The only way to know what you’re feeding is to feed hay that has been tested for nutrient content.
What should you do?
1. Unless your horse is on a special diet, consider increasing the amount of hay that they get in cold weather to assure that they are eating 2% - 2.5% of their body weight daily (20-25 lb. per day for a 1000 pound horse). If your horse cannot eat hay, provide enough complete feed (at least 1% of his body weight daily) for them to get the fiber they need. Beet pulp is also an excellent source of highly digestible fiber.
2. Feed concentrate appropriate for the needs of the horse. For easy keepers, a ration balancer that provides nutrients, vitamins and minerals might be appropriate. For others, a performance or senior feed will keep them in good weight.
3. If your hay is supplied in large quantities, it’s simple to test your own. Or, look for a grower who tests their hay in bulk. That way we can find out what else the horse needs to balance his diet.
4. Avoid over-supplementation. The supplement market is huge and while some might help here and there, many of them provide no real advantage. While too much of a good thing may be overtly harmless, the body has to work to get rid of the things we feed that it doesn’t need. Often, simpler is better.
Unsure? Contact me! As a certified Equine Nutrition Advisor, I have the education and background to help you navigate the never-ending market of feeds and supplements.
Sue Fanelli, EQ-Knowledge