7 Winter Feeding Tips for Horses

Feeding Your Horse During Winter Tips

horse in snow

Horses can comfortably live outside, with the support of few amenities, for the most part of the year. However, during winter it means a change from grazing out there to being stabled all night and the major part of the day.

During this time, horses use up to 80% of the feed energy to keep their bodies warm, so there is a need for feed modification. Generally, for every 1º C reduction below the critical temperature, horses require an increase of 1% in digestible energy to maintain constant body temperature. Besides this, the lower temperatures in winter inhibit the growth of grazing pasture and the few which might grow has a low nutritional value which implies the horses rely on the owners to provide additional forage. Here are 7 tips to ensure your horses get adequate nutritional diet during winter

Increase ration

During winter, the majority of the horse feed goes towards maintaining body temperatures, as such, your horse might lose weight. Since grazing is sparse at this time, you need to increase the amount of hay than he would normally consume. Typically, horses require a daily feed less than 2% of their body weight. For instance, a 1000 pounds horse can consume about 20 pounds of hay per day. However, during winter, a horse which normally consumes this amount might require about 25-30 pounds of hay on a daily basis to maintain a consistent body temperature.

Generally, you should consider providing a feed with utmost 2kg of cubes or mix because horse’s’ stomach might not accommodate larger quantities than this. If you choose to feed more than this amount to keep weight loss under check, then you should change to a conditioning feed or split into two or more feeds.

Monitor horse’s condition

In some cases, your horse might lose weight owing to the depleting pastures. This affects older horse the most; these horses drop a significant weight, especially over the hips and withers. On the other hand, your horse can also increase weight during this period. This could be attributed to the increasing number of hours the horse is stabled, or you may be riding less which means that the horse is burning fewer calories. According to World Horse Welfare, horse owners should monitor changes in horse body weight using a tape measure or weighbridge in order to adjust the diet in time. Remember that hairy coat and winter rugs can easily disguise early signs of weight loss.

Provide enough fresh, clean, warm water

As you increase the amount of hay that your horse consumes, you should also provide enough water. Increased consumption of hay can cause impaction if not accompanied by sufficient water. Unlike pastures, which have 80% water content, a diet of hay has lower water content (about 10%). This means a horse on a hay diet needs sufficient amount of water per day to live healthily. Thinklikeahorse.org recommends that your horse should drink enough water, especially during winter. In normal circumstance, a 1000 pounds horse can drink a minimum of 25 liters of water. However, the intake level might drastically reduce if the water has impurities such as debris, or if it is very cold.

In such instances, there is a higher chance for your horse to get dehydrated or suffer from colic. Keep in mind that impaction colic is the number one killer of horses. So, you should provide your hose with clean warm water in a clean container. A majority of horses drink the most water when the water temperature ranges from 7º C to 20º C.

Increase fiber in the diet

Fiber diet is good for keeping the horse warm. Fiber diet such as hay is good for digestion. If you can’t provide enough fiber, your horse will look for other sources such as wood fences, trees or bedding to satisfy his needs. The fiber obtained from hay is good because it produces more heat during the digestion thus helping in keeping your horse warm. During winter, it is important to provide a slightly higher amount of fiber than you would give your horse.

The best fiber for this purpose is low nutrient hay because it will provide enough forage while not adding extra calories. A horse which has consumed hay will produce nearly twice the amount of body heat as the horse which has consumed grain. If your horse loses weight, then you can consider better quality hay or highly digestive fiber such as sugar beet and alfalfa. Likewise, older horses with poor teeth can be given high-fiber cubes as an alternative to forage or feed them with tender, immature hay since they have difficulty in chewing during winter.

Consider salt in diet

Another way of encouraging your horse to drink more water during winter is using salt. Thehorse.com prefers supplementing your horse feed with some salt or providing access to mineral salt block during this time. This will also meet the horse’s requirements for sodium and other minerals, especially when the horse is feeding on a lot of hay as opposed to grain.

Provide feed with essential nutrients

If you want to stoke your horse’s internal surface during winter, then you can feed him on a high-protein diet such as alfalfa or haylage. This will not only provide the required protein but will also provide extra energy. The excess energy will be stored as body fat. On top of this, the digestion and metabolism of this high protein diet will produce extra heat which contributes to the overall body warmth.

Sometimes your horse might lose weight despite consuming hay. The reason for this could be the hay being less nutritious. In such instances, a horse owner should provide him with high fiber pellets.

Use supplements

In most cases, horses may not need additional hard feeds apart from the forage and grazing. In fact, fiber first should be the guiding feeding principle. Supplements should only be considered as an additional feeding. With that said, an easier way of getting supplemental vitamin, proteins, and other minerals is through fortified feed concentrates. Generally, prescribed veterinary solutions or appetizers such as molasses, sugar pulp, or chopped apples or carrots can entice fussy eaters. In addition to this, adding about 4-8 oz of corn oil to horse feeds can provide extra calories. While most oil and grain have higher calories than hay, they can’t build insulating fat layer faster. So, you should also use these supplement to add few pounds over time or to maintain the weight.



As you take care of your horse, remember that it is easier to maintain weight on your horse during winter than to get it back to normal when he has gotten skinny. Also, ensure your horse deworming schedule is up to date before winter arrives. If you can keep the above feeding tips, then you are almost guaranteed that your horse will emerge healthier at the end of the winter.

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