Planning for Cooler Temperatures

Dec 02, 2019

Although the winter conditions are not as severe here in Tennessee as they are in other areas of the country, they do warrant changes to our management practices relative to what we’ve been doing with our horses all summer and fall.  Here are some things to consider. 
Nutrition: Assess your current feeding program. 

Realize that as the temperatures begin to drop, your horse requires more energy (i.e. calories) to maintain his body temperature.  If the horse is not receiving an adequate amount of energy in his diet, he will begin utilizing energy stored in his body (i.e. fat) to supply his requirements.  This results in weight loss and poor body condition and is especially problematic if the horse starts out the winter in poor condition.  The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System ranks a horse’s condition on a scale of 1(poor) to 9 (extremely fat).  Ideally we would like to see horses no lower than a 5 going into winter.  A 5 is described as “Back is flat, no crease or ridge; ribs not visually distinguishable, but easily felt; fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy; withers appear rounded over spine, shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.” Now is a good time to take a look at your feeding program so that you have time to get your horse into the appropriate condition before the temperatures drop.    
Adjusting your feeding program may mean feeding more of your current feeds (hay and concentrate) or feeding higher quality feeds (again, both hay and concentrate).  Start with your forage.  Normal, healthy horses can easily consume 1.5 – 2.0% of their body weight (16.5-22 lbs/day for a 1100 lbs horse) as forage.  Increasing the amount or quality of forage offered can offset many of the increased nutrient demands of winter.  Several factors can affect hay quality, including field fertilization, plant species, maturity at harvest, harvesting techniques and subsequent storage. 
Next, look at the feeding directions on the concentrate (or grain) being fed.  Compare the amount you’re feeding to the nutritionists’ recommended feeding rate; there may be room for adjusting the amount of concentrate offered.  If your feeding rate is at the upper end of the recommended rate, consider switching to a feed with a higher energy content.  It may also be necessary to feed problematic horses separately so as to ensure they’re consuming the intended amount of hay and/or concentrate. Visit with your local Coop or contact us at TFC; we’re happy to help select the most appropriate feed for your situation. 
As nutritionists, we talk about the importance of water during hot, humid conditions, but water intake is just as important during the winter months.  Before cold weather hits, check automatic waterers and water tanks.  Make sure they’re clean and functioning properly.  Among other things, water helps to maintain proper gut motility.  Reductions in water intake, whether from an inadequate supply or unclean conditions, has been implicated in impaction colic, particularly when dry hay makes up a substantial part of the diet (as it does in the winter).        
Other Management Practices:

Consider the availability and quality of shelter.  Remember, shorter days means you’ll likely be doing chores (or doctoring wounds) after dark; do you have adequate lighting?  If your horses are going to spend an appreciable amount of time indoors, is your ventilation adequate to prevent respiratory issues? 
Just because our grass has slowed down for the year doesn’t mean we should forget about our pastures.  Late fall is an ideal time to apply herbicides and fertilizer.  Weeds compete for the same nutrients as the desirable species in our pastures, so eliminating them will result in less competition and stronger stands of grass.  While fall fertilizer application may not significantly improve yield, it does help build stronger root systems and allows for quicker green-up and more vigorous growth in the spring.  Visit with your local Coop; they can help with soil sampling and fertilization and herbicide recommendations and application.

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