Is Feeding A Forage-Only Diet OK In Winter? It Depends – Horse Racing News


Many horses can maintain body condition eating nothing but hay throughout the colder winter months, but there are some variables that can affect even an easy keeper’s ability to hold weight. Extremely cold temperatures will require a horse to burn more calories to stay warm; additionally, eating a lower-quality forage may also affect his ability to maintain an adequate weight throughout the winter, reports The Horse.

As horses can lose condition quickly, it’s important that an owner or caretaker lay hands on the horse frequently, whether or not the horse is blanketed. A thick coat or a blanket can easily hide a declining frame. It’s also helpful to measure the horse regularly with a weight tape. 

On average, a horse should be fed 1.5 percent of his body weight in hay per day. If the horse lives outside 24/7, it can be more difficult to monitor his hay intake, so sharp observation is key. Horses that live outside in a herd may experience a shift in herd dynamics as pasture becomes scarcer and they rely more on provided forage. 

Because of this, it’s important that there be multiple piles of hay accessible, each placed far enough apart that the horses can’t fight over the food. 

If a horse begins losing weight, the easiest solution is to feed more hay, though this isn’t always an option with different boarding and geographic situations. In these cases, hay pellets or cubes can be used to supplement hay intake. Beet pulp can also be fed; it offers the horse more calories per pound than hay. 

Some horses will not be able to maintain winter weight on a forage-only diet; these horses will need a feed that offers more fat and fiber, like a senior feed or one designed for hard-working horses. If fed in sufficient quantities, these feeds can provide all the vitamins and minerals a horse may need. Some of these feeds require 5 pounds or more to be fed for the horse to receive adequate nutrition. In this case, the feed should be split up into multiple meals to allow for proper digestion and absorption. 

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Additional ways to help a horse be as prepared as possible for colder weather includes making sure his teeth are cared for so he can adequately chew his hay and feed. Often dental problems become apparent as the horse switches to more-coarse hay from soft grass. Hay that isn’t chewed properly doesn’t digest well and can lead to impaction colic. 

Performing a fecal egg count before winter can also determine if the horse needs dewormed before colder weather comes on. 

Read more at The Horse.