Winter is here. Have you thought about ways to make sure your horse stays energized all throughout the season? During this time of the year, it is still important to think about horse feeding practices. When feeding horses during winter,it involves providing increased sources of energy to be able to sustain cold weather.
Horses usually are working and exercising less during winter. As the colder weather takes hold and the conditions get harsher it is less conducive for working or riding . However your horse’s energy requirements increase during winter. What can you do to provide your horse with the energy it needs during these extreme conditions. Being idle for several consecutive days can also lead to behavioral problems.
Energy fuels the body to perform different daily functions. Energy is required so your horse can do the basic bodily functions such as digestion, breathing, chewing, as well as keep the immune system operational. Energy for your horse comes from different sources but primarily from carbohydrates and digestion of fat – with carbohydrates being the biggest contributor for energy in equine nutrition.
Fats can also be a good source of calories and contribute to energy balance for horses during cold weather. Fat should be digested in order to be absorbed in the stomach and small intestine of the animal, so when you feed them, make sure you do so in small amounts so that you won’t be overdoing it and giving undigested fat to your horse. Natural microbes found inside the cecum of the horse are not naturally great handlers of fat and if you give too much fat, it can impair hindgut function resulting in gas and even colic.
Protein can also be given to horses in winter but is not the primary source of energy. Horses cannot store protein so its excess will be burned for energy.
Other sources of Energy
Forages are an excellent food source that can provide energy and can benefit mature horses that are given light work during winter months. Forages such as alfalfa hay or grass can provide a great deal of energy needs. Keep in mind that pregnant, senior, growing, or working horses may need extra sources of energy. This other source can be from grains that contain more fats, starches, and proteins. Additionally, giving hay to your horse does not always mean that you have already done your part in providing the best energy source. The quality of hay should be considered and assessed for best nutritional value. When feeding hay, make sure you have them analyzed for nutrient content to make sure you are feeding the right energy source to help optimize your winter feeding program.
Important Nutrition for your Horse in Winter
It is essential to ensure a balanced diet that will provide adequate energy requirements for your horse during winter. Therefore it is important to carefully assess your horse’s energy needs. This assessment will help to ration correct food groups that will provide your horse with the complete nutritional required to exert energy through this season. If your horse is only doing light work, he does not need that much energy other than the normal ration you give him. Conversely, a horse expected to do more work should be given a larger ration for more energy. Take note of your horse’s weight if increasing the quantity of food to your horse. You may need to reassess the intake and adjust accordingly.
Keep in mind the utmost importance of providing fresh, clean water at all times. Even in winter you might think that the weather is cold and that it does not induce thirst for animals. Fluid levels in the body should be maintained as it is needed for efficient digestion of feed – which in turn would generate heat. When winter sets in your horse may be less likely to drink water especially when the water’s cold. Therefore water should be freely accessed and if possible, it should not be ice cold. Water warmers are available to keep the drinking water tepid.
Don’t let the winter inhibit your horses’ spirit
For those horses who have high spirits the cooler weather may not change their need to keep active. Being active and moving in the colder weather helps to generate more heat. Don’t let winter hold back your horse from enjoying the activities he likes. If your horse is used to going for regular rides you should maintain your normal routine. A long ride in winter will help your horse warm up due the exercise. Your horse can still be out in field safely providing you keep an eye on your horse and monitor the time spent in the cold and if it is starting to become harmful.
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