Katie Williams from Dengie has 10 feeding tips to help you and your horse through the winter.
As the weather gets colder we often need to feed more to help our horse maintain weight. Horse magazine brings you 10 tips to keep your horse happy and healthy this winter.
1. Get more from the fibre you feed.
Fibre is a very important part of your horse's diet. If horses and ponies can get more nutrition from their forage less bucket feed is usually required to maintain or promote weight gain. This benefits their digestive systems and your bank account. Digestive-enhancing supplements, such as yeast, have been shown to help horses get more out of the fibre they eat. As you only need to feed 10g of pure yeast a day, a 1kg tub should last more than three months, which should see your horse through the winter.
2. Opt for an alternative to soaking hay
In winter, soaking hay can be a real chore as taps and water-filled buckets may freeze up. There are alternatives, however, which are easier to manage in colder weather.Steaming is one option and research has shown that doing this in a commercial steamer reduces respirable particles just as effectively as soaking. It also has the added benefit of reducing the number of bacteria in the hay, while soaking increases bacteria counts. If investing in a commercial steamer isn't viable then there is a wide range of chopped fibre feeds that can be used as complete or partial hay replacers- and they don't need to be soaked.
3. Feed a low-fizz energy source
Cold or windy weather can fizz a horse up, especially if he is clipped out. Use fibre and oil in their feeds as they provide slow-release energy, compared to the starch found in cereals.
4. Entertain your horse
Stabling for longer means feeding more forage. Place tubs of chopped fibre alongside your horse's hay or haylage ration and hang swedes or hazel twigs around the stable for him to graze on. This will provide a more stimulating environment and allow him to demonstrate a more natural foraging behaviour.
5. Feed little and often
We all know the rule of little and often when it comes to bucket feeding, but this can apply to forage, too. Nearly all horses and ponies can be fed ad-lib hay or haylage, but if you have a good doer this will probably result in excessive weight gain. Feed him a number of small haynets to avoid this and reduce the time her spends without any forage. If you can't get to the yard during lunchtimes or last thing at night, could you get together with other owners and take it in turns.
6. Replace lost salts
Hunting, competing and travelling all use up electrolytes, even in the winter. Using a supplement will help reduce the risk of the onset of fatigue and muscle problems.
7. Centrally heat your horse
Feeding fibre is the best way to keep your horses warm in the winter months as heat is produced when fibre is digested or fermented in the digestive system.
8. Show tough love
For good doers, feed tougher hay which is harder to digest and therefore less likely to cause weight gain.
9. Monitor his drinking
When it's really cold, some horses can be put off drinking, which increases the risk of dehydration and colic.Adding a flavouring might help or simply making the water warm can encourage some horses to drink.
10. Watch out for winter laminitis
Sugar levels can accumulate in pasture on cold, bright mornings. This is because grass photosynthesises (produces sugar) but doesn't grow- and it is the growing process which uses up the sugar. If your horse or pony is prone to laminitis you should try to avoid turning him out during these conditions.
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