08 Oct Feeding Tips for Autumn
The temperature is quickly dropping and as we move into autumn, horse owners begin to alter their horse’s diet and environment.
In winter, horses use up to 80% of their feed to keep warm. The use of winter rugs and hairy coats can also make it much more difficult to detect weight loss or other conditions, making nutrition vital during the cooler months.
Before adjusting your winter feeding rations, you should ask yourself a few questions regarding the workload and temperament of the horse as well as their condition and living arrangements (stabled or living out). These factors play a vital role in the amount of food and variety your horse will require. For example, fizzy horses may require extra calories without the ingredients that contribute to their behaviour (cereal and molasses) and older horses may benefit from high quality protein as their metabolism will be less effective at absorbing this later in life.
To ensure your horse remains happy and healthy this winter, we have outlined a few simple tips on meeting their nutritional needs:
- The lower the temperature, the more likely horses will decrease their water consumption. Make sure horses have direct access to fresh water and undertake regular checks for ice when the temperature drops below zero. Electrolytes or warmer water can also assist in encouraging horses to drink more.
- Fibre is especially important in the winter months as horse generate more heat from digesting fibrous materials than any other nutrient. Eating 1 kilogram of hay generates twice as much heat than 1 kilogram of barley.
- Changes in lifestyle from being out in the grass all day to being stabled can contribute to low nutrition in grazing during the winter. Therefore, additional forage is essential in ensuring your horse meets the same nutritional requirements as the weather gets cooler. Cool nights will also lead to an accumulation of sugars in grass, so be careful of grass intake if you have a laminitis-prone horse.
- While a larger amount of food may be required for horses over the winter, it is important to keep in mind that the horse’s stomach is only the size of a rugby ball. Rations over winter are best split over a few meals (3-4 per day) which will help reduce the volume per feed.
- Feeding concentrates alongside high calorie chaff will promote chewing and slow eating times, with research suggesting that this also improves the digestion of hard feed.
- Winter rugs can disguise prominent ribs and the first signs of weight loss and other health conditions. You should generally be able to run your hand lightly across your horse’s ribcage and feel the ribs, but not see them. Measuring your horse’s condition with tape measure or weight tape will detect any weight changes early.
Every horse is different and it is important to monitor the health and nutrition of your horse over the cooler months to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs. If you are interested in developing a winter feeding program an equine nutritionist or veterinarian will be able qualified to assist you.
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