Seasonal Chores: Autumn and Winter
Preparing for Autumn
Here in Hertfordshire, the leaves have changed colour and many of them have already fallen from the trees. The sun is much weaker during the day, the nights are getting chillier and the wind now has that raw feel to it. It’s Autumn. That means it’s time to start thinking about preparing for winter with your horses. Whether you’re on the south coast of England or in the Outer Hebrides, winter usually brings some type of headache for horse owners. So it you start preparing for it now, the winter won’t seem half as bad as you think it is. Whilst horses have a history of proving that they can withstand more than what most seasons dish out, it's important to take precautionary measures to ensure the health and happiness of your horse and indirectly you! However there are a few simple management changes that can help them along the way. These measures are best started in early autumn as a healthy horse in the autumn has a better chance of being a healthy horse going into the winter and coming out the other side. But what precautions or rather alterations are needed? Here are some points to consider.
Invest in the best quality hay that you can afford as it will inevitably save you money in the long run because less feed is required to meet the horse’s nutritional requirements and the palatability is higher, resulting in less waste. You can feed all the poor-quality hay you want and a horse still will lose weight in rough winter conditions. Poor-quality hay just doesn’t provide the energy and nutrients a horse needs to survive during a harsh, cold winter. Be sure to look for fresh-smelling hay without mould, weeds, dust or discolouration. Poor-quality (brown, few leaves, large amount of coarse stems) and moldy hay should not be fed, regardless of the physiologic state of the horse. If your horse has been out at grass for the summer and is now being given hay, remember to make the change or increase it gradually. Likewise, if you have to change from one kind of hay to another, feed a mixture of the old and new hay for three days in between. Most recent nutritional recommendations suggest that a horse should receive 2% of its body weight in hay (or forage) per day. Working through an ‘average sized horse’ example: for horse that weighs about half a ton in moderate exercise, it will need about 20 pounds of hay per day about 600 pounds of hay per month. Make sure your horse has enough hay! As your horse burns more calories to keep itself warm and there’s less grass out there during the autumn and winter, it’s important your horse gets more hay so he/she doesn’t lose condition. Start this routine early before he starts to lose condition. It’s easier to prevent this than to treat it when it happens. A couple of extra pounds of hay fed on extremely cold nights is the best heat source you can provide your horse. Body heat generated by eating and digesting the hay will help keep your horse warm. A simple way to avoid over or under feeding your horse is by always weighing hay as feeding by eye is not accurate, wastes hay …and money. Regarding hard feed, it may be worth considering giving your horse an extra meal a day, ie a lunch, if it’s in full work or if it’s a fizzy horse as horses of this nature tend to struggle to maintain condition at the best of times. If you are riding less, you may need to cut down on the amount your horse eats. Watch your horse's weight and make the necessary adjustments but remember whatever you do, do it gradually to avoid a digestive upset.
As the temperatures fall, supplying ‘appealing’ drinking water is still as important as during the hot days of summer. The colder weather makes the cold drinking water less appealing to horses and they will often decrease their water consumption per day as a result. Even on cooler days, drinking insufficient water can still lead to dehydration and colic. To avoid these side effects, add electrolyte powder to the horse's feed or water but provide a second watch bucket in case he won't drink the flavoured electrolyte water. Another idea is to simply add some warm water to what is offered.
Horses need more energy to function in the cooler temperatures in order to keep their body temperatures warm. For this reason, having their teeth in good shape is essential. Another recommendation for the autumn is to ensure that horses are wormed for tapeworm as this is the best time in the calendar to do this.
Take Home Message
Cooler temperatures require horse owners to be vigilant, monitor their horse's nutrition program more carefully and possibly alter it to meet the horse's nutritional needs. If specific questions arise or you're in any doubt about your horse's health, it's advisable to consult your vet or equine nutritionist.
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