Winter Feeding Tips
As the season changes and the temperature begins to dip, many horses tend to drop weight. This winter weight loss comes down to two primary factors. Firstly, horses use more energy (burn more calories) in winter keeping themselves warm; Secondly, pasture quality and grass growth drops, which often means the grazing horse will not meet its daily roughage requirement.
With these factors in mind, there are a few simple diet adjustments that can be made to help your horse maintain optimum body condition during winter.
Preparation is key
Preparing yourself and your horse for the winter season is essential. For horses who struggle to maintain weight during winter, it’s best to prepare them for this period during autumn. Throughout autumn gradually increase their feed intake until you reach the ideal winter-feeding amount. Doing this in autumn will help put extra weight on your horse before the winter period. Strive to keep your horse in a good body condition prior to the winter months as the extra body fat provides an additional insulating effect and will serve as an energy reserve.
The Autumn period is also a good time for horse owners to prepare for winter feeding, often hay prices increase during winter due to supply and demand strains. If you’re able to buy in bulk and store, this is now the time to do so, to save yourself money and be prepared for winter. Having a clear winter feeding plan prepped before winter will come in very hand too – so get yours together now!
Top tips for winter feeding
There is no one winter diet that is better than the rest, however there a some very simple feeding principles to follow to help your horse maintain weight during winter. These are our top tips!
Roughage, roughage & more roughage!
Roughage is the most important component of a horse’s diet. Often owners want to increase hard feeds during winter, however increasing hay will benefit the horse more.
The fibre in hay and other forages (pasture/ chaff/super fibres) is digested in your horse’s hindgut via the process of bacterial fermentation. A by-product of this fermentation process is heat! By feeding extra forage you are topping up the calories (energy) your horse is burning to stay warm in winter, whilst also giving your horse’s gut bacteria more fibre to ferment, which means they will generate more heat to help to keep warm.
Super fibre sources
This may sound like repetition, but fibre is your friend when it comes to keeping your horse warm from the inside out. Highly digestible super fibres, from soybean hulls and sugar beet-pulp are great, healthy filler feeds that add extra condition to the horse, whilst keeping the gut happy. Super fibre feeds include Benchmark Feed’s Perfect Mash and Super Fibre Mash, Speedibeet and Maxisoy. Try adding one of these to your horse’s diet during winter to help increase their fibre intake whilst also helping keep them feeling fuller for longer.
Add starch (safely)
The carbohydrates (starch and sugars) in grain feeds increase energy density in the diet and therefore contribute to weight gain. Grains are a great feed source for horses when fed properly. When feeding grains, it’s always best to use micronised or extruded grain feeds, as they have a higher digestibility, allowing more nutrients to be absorbed, whilst also being kinder on the digestive system, which will help reduce the risk of grain caused gastric ulcers. Our top winter picks for grain based feeds are Hygain Tru Care, Mitavite Cool Vitality and Pryde's EasiConditioner.
When adding grain to the diet always remember to keep your horse’s meal balanced. Stick to the ration of 30:70 grain to roughage and do not feed more than 2kgs of grain in a single feed. It should be noted that some horses can become more reactive on grain-based feeds, if this is the case for your horse, there are grain free feed options that may be more suitable for your horse, such as Pryde’s EasiSport, Benchmark CoolAZ, and Johnson’s Alfalfa Pellets.
Add some fat!
Adding oil to your horse’s diet is a great way to safely increase the energy density of the diet. Oil has approximately 2.5 times more calories than grain on an equal weight basis. When adding oil to a feed you will find less grain is required for weight gain. Oil is a slow-release energy, which means this energy source will not heat your horse up like some grain feeds can. Oils also have the added benefit of improving coat condition and shine. There are many different oils you can feed horses, including canola, rice bran, linseed and fish oil. Linseed oils, such as Oi Raw Linseed Oil and Cen Oil are popular choices because these oils are higher in Omega 3 than other oils and have the Omega 3 to 6 ration closest to that of fresh pasture.
Simple & consistent
Winter is often a difficult and expensive season for horse owners but using these principles of winter feeding will help your horse maintain condition in winter. It is import with feeding horses to not overcomplicate your feed and stick to one complete feed to keep it balanced and remember to feed small meals often. If you’re having difficulty getting weight on your horse there could be an underlying issue, such as dental, parasitic, gastric ulcers, disease or illness, stress, or too little feed. Keep your horse’s worming, medical and dental up to date and in most cases, unless there is a reason to limit your horse's feed intake (e.g. a metabolic syndrome), feed your horse at least 1.5% of their body weight per day.