ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Horses are more than a whimsical mode of transportation in the summer; they also require winter care. This process doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds. Though most of us have already made our equine friends comfy cozy for the winter months ahead, consider this your refresher course regarding your faithful steeds.
Horses need more water in winter – Water consumption is critical all times of the year, but particular challenges are present during the winter. To avoid dehydration and colic, a 1,000 lb horse should be drinking 10-12 gallons of water. This may seem like a lot, but summer diets consist of feeds with high water contents, opposed to dry winter feeds. Keep in mind this water should be around 45°- 60°. By feeding within this range, we can increase water intake and reduce the risk of colic.
Feed to match the weather – We feed animals to meet their energy requirements (gestation, producing milk, growing). All these stages require more energy than what is supplied through maintenance. This requirement also varies based on the environment. If a hypothetical horse has a winter hair coat, they are comfy cozy at 20°F, slightly above their lower critical temperature. That same animal with a summer hair coat would also be somewhat above their lower critical temperature at 40°. What changed was the environment and the hair coat. When we move lower than the animal’s lower critical temperature, the horse is fed more to maintain its body temperature and condition. For every degree below 18° F, the horse requires an additional one percent energy in their diet. Consider forage as a valuable dietary tool. Forage can increase microbial fermentation, keeping the horse warm.
Body Condition – During the winter months, a heavy hair coat can do a pretty convincing job hiding a thin frame. When you check on Bulls Eye, Trigger, or Chincoteague, take a minute to body condition score. Do this regularly to chart your animal’s health (cell phone alarms are your best friend for making those checks regular).
The next steps are simple:
If the animal is gaining weight, reduce feed
If the animal is losing weight, increase feed
These are the first tips of a few to prepare you and your stalwart companion for the next several months. If you would like to read ahead in the proverbial text, check out the UMN website (https://extension.umn.edu/horse-care-and-management/caring-your-horse-winter#shelters-can-increase-your-horse%E2%80%99s-temperature-tolerance-51810). If you would instead prefer to join me on my journey into winterizing livestock, I will see you for Part 2 next week.
— Dana Adams, University of Minnesota Extension
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