5 Winter feeding tips

Use these simple tips and techniques to keep your horse happy and healthy when the weather turns cold.
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1. Many horses lose weight once pastures die back. For an easy keeper coming into the season with extra pounds, this can be a good thing. But you’ll want to keep an eye on an already lean horse, perhaps increasing his forage (hay) to replace the pasture he’s not getting. Feeding more concentrates (grain) can lead to digestive problems and “hot” behavior, though. If you can’t maintain a horse’s weight with increased hay alone, consider adding extra calories in the form of oil or a weight-gaining supplement.

2. Older horses who have trouble holding their weight in winter may lack the dental health to properly chew. For such horses, a chopped hay substitute or a complete pelleted feed may be an important part of maintaining their body condition over the winter months.

3. Increasing your horse’s hay ration in winter will help keep him warm from the inside out. Hay is a “slow burn” food for horses, meaning it is digested more slowly, generating metabolic heat longer than concentrates. If you’re worried about excess weight from increased hay consumption, look for a long-stemmed, high-fiber grass hay that is good quality—meaning it’s not dusty or full of weeds—but lower in overall nutrition and calories. Ideally, a horse kept in a cold climate will have hay in front of him continuously.

4. Use a child’s saucer-type sled to easily pull hay across snow-covered pastures to horses.

5. Warm bran mashes are a winter tradition beloved by many horse-keepers. Nutritionally speaking, however, bran isn’t the best choice, and such an abrupt change in your horse’s ration can lead to colic. Skip the bran and simply add hot water to your horse’s regular feed to make a mash. Your horse will appreciate it just as much. 

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