Feeding horses in winter
Winter is right around the corner and it is time to think about maintaining horses through the winter, says Rebecca Bott, South Dakota State University Extension Equine Specialist.
The ideal body condition score (BCS) for a horse at maintenance is 5 to 6. "As the temperature drops, and wind chill and moisture increase, the grocery requirement of a horse to maintain that BCS will increase," Bott says.
Bott says that horses are typically hardy animals who can withstand cold temperatures, wind chill, and moisture (snow or rain) individually. However, she adds that if two or more of these factors happen at the same time, it increases the challenge of them maintaining body heat and condition.
She encourages horse owners to assess their horses BCS frequently throughout the winter.
"It is much easier to maintain BCS, than to catch up if condition has been lost," she says. "This is especially difficult in the winter and for growing, gestating , lactating, and hard working animals that already have higher nutritional requirements than adult horses at maintenance."
Horses ferment fibrous feeds in their hindgut, explains Bott. The process of fermentation creates heat. Thus, she says, feeding roughages to horses helps warm them from the inside out.
"As temperature drops, horses require more feed to maintain themselves at their current state," she says. "Roughage is the number one go-to feed source for this because it provides gut fill, and more heat than other feeds during the digestive process."
She adds that grain can also be used as a supplement to provide extra energy during the winter months.
Because horses don't adjust well to sudden changes in the diet, Bott says horse owners shouldn't pile on extra grain in one day just because the temperatures drop.
"Look at longer term weather forecasts and make slow changes in diets that seem appropriate for the weather over a period of time," she says.
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