Cold and maintaining horse body condition
Cold weather, particularly below freezing temperatures, along with blistering cold rains, requires horse owners to pay careful attention to their equines. You want to make sure they maintain their weight throughout the winter months.
Make sure your horses are at least a body condition score of 5 or 6, meaning that the horses are carrying some fat cover over their ribs. Body condition should be monitored by physical examination at least monthly as long hair can hide weight loss. This is particularly important for older horses. The horses should also be kept up to date on dental and overall health care, including deworming. Proper hoof care is also important during the winter.
Water that is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, should be available at all times. If water sources freeze, the ice should be broken at least twice per day. Owners should not rely on horses eating snow for their water supply. A 1200-pound horse requires 12-15 gallons of water daily during cold weather. Having inadequate water available or water that is too cold to drink comfortably may contribute to impaction colic.
A horse that does not have adequate water available will also decrease its feed intake, which may lead to loss of body condition. Salt should be available free choice. Loose salt is preferable rather than a salt block as some horses may not lick a cold salt block.
Provide shelter from cold rains and the wind. Horses remain remarkably comfortable in cold weather if they are dry and have shelter from the wind. Cold rains mat down the hair coat, reducing the insulation value of the hair and causing the horses to lose body heat.
You may need to feed more.
A horse’s digestible energy requirement increases for each degree below the thermal neutral zone. Wind chill increases the energy requirement. Hay or high fiber products produce more heat during digestion than do grains, so adding extra good quality roughage to the diet is a good option. Grain intake can also be adjusted to maintain the desired body condition but needs to be adjusted gradually.
Did you know?
– A 1200 lb. horse at maintenance requires about 17.7 Mcal (17,700 Calories) of digestible energy (DE) for maintenance.
– Each degree C below Lower Critical Temperature (Anywhere from 5 degrees C or 40 degrees F down) depending on what the horse is used to increases DE requirement about 2.5%.
– Converting to Fahrenheit, each degree drop requires about 1.375%, so if the temperature drops from 10 degrees F to 0 degrees F, the DE requirement may increase 13.75% to 20.13 Mcal or 20,130 Calories.
– This increase of 2430 Calories would require an additional 2.8 pounds of alfalfa-grass hay to maintain body condition.
– If the horse does not get the additional DE, the horse could lose a little over a quarter of a pound per day.
– In three months of cold weather, it is very easy for a horse to drop a full body condition score.
Proper winter care will help ensure that your horse is ready for spring when it finally arrives.