Preparing your Senior Horse for Winter

November 12, 2018

The crisp fall air has started to hint at the sting of winter's bitterness quickly approaching, which means it is time to re-evaluate your horse's nutrition program, especially if you have older horses or hard keepers.  Winter is notorious for wreaking havoc on the body condition of older animals. As the temperature drops, a horse's energy requirement will increase to maintain a proper core body warmth. Thus, more energy equals more calories.   Proper planning can help older horses slide through winter in good shape.
The University of Minnesota Extension states that most healthy horses with a winter hair coat can maintain proper body temperature when it is above 18F without a diet change.  This is considered the "lower critical temperature" – or the minimum temperature at which a horse can maintain core body temp without increasing caloric needs.  However, older horses may be more susceptible to the cold due to a weakened immune system, poor teeth, lack of movement, among many other factors. In short, older horses may reach their lower critical temperature faster because they lose heat more rapidly. This means we need to get extra calories to older horses while it is cold!  Aside from increasing their forage intake, considering adding a higher calorie feed that supports the immune system such as Senior Active or Equine Senior by Purina.
So, how much more should you feed?  A healthy horse's energy needs will increase by roughly 1% for each degree below 18F.  This may be higher for older horses.  You can increase the amount of grain you are using; however, the digestion of forage creates more heat than the easy digestion of a good pelleted feed.   That said, older horses who cannot properly utilize forage due to poor teeth may need to transition to a complete feed – which is a grain-only diet specifically formulated to meet their daily forage needs.  If you notice your horse "wading" or chewing hay then spitting it out in a ball, it may be time to make the transition to a complete feed.  Consult with your vet about the condition of your horse's teeth before making the switch. It is highly recommended that all feed changes be made gradually to lower the risk of digestive upset.
As always, make sure your horse has access to clean, thawed water at all times.  Also keep a salt block in their pen, which will help encourage water intake.  Do not rely on snow and ice to provide adequate moisture.  If a horse is not acclimated to using snow as a "water source" or does not drink enough water in general (often due to dirty, stinky or frozen water) they are at a higher risk of colic, which may be fatal.  Lastly, make sure your horse is going to the water – often icy patches or snowballs in the horse's feet cause them to be less mobile.  (Spraying PAM or cooking spray in your horse's feet is a good way to fend off snow packing in the hooves!)
If you have any concerns about your winter feeding program, contact your local CVA Feed store and request a visit from their equine specialist resources.
by Lindsey Kester
Posted: 11/12/2018 1:45:59 PM by Kristin Petersen | with 0 comments