Horses in winter have different nutrition requirements in cold winter months than they do the rest of the year. First of all, horses get much of their nutrition from forage and pasture grazing. These resources start to die out in winter, so owners must provide an alternative forage source. Because of this, horses’ water intake is also affected. Feeding horses incorrectly can cause your herd serious illness. Read the following article to make sure your horses are getting all the nutrition they need.

Prepare for Winter Early

You want to make sure your horse maintains a healthy weight through winter. The best way to do this is to make sure he’s a healthy weight before the temps start dropping. Horses in Winter typically lose weight during winter so it’s hard to make your horse gain pounds if he’s thinning out. Plus, having an extra layer of fat will help him keep warm.

Make sure to purchase your hay as early as possible, preferably summer. The earlier you buy it, the cheaper and better quality it will be. If you wait until winter, you’re going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Check out this article for more tips on preparing your horse for winter.

Critical Temperature

The reason horses in Winter have different feed needs is because their bodies have to work harder to maintain an acceptable body temperature. The critical temperature is “at what temperature a horse’s nutritional requirements change to maintain normal body temperature.” For every degree below the critical temperature, increase your horse’s daily calorie allowance by 1%.

Watering Horses in Winter

Keeping horses in Winter hydrated is essential to maintaining a healthy herd through winter. Horses usually get a large amount of water from healthy, green forage or pasture. When they stop eating forage and start eating hay (which is much drier) for winter, horses can develop impaction colic. This occurs when the horse ingests too much dry food and not enough water to lubricate it within its digestive tract. The food ends up blocking the horse’s intestine, which can be both painful for the horse and fatal.

Horses should get about 10-12 gallons of water a day throughout winter. Make sure the water is a good temperature — around 50-66 degrees Fahrenheit. If your water is too cold, not only will your horses not want to drink it, but they will have to work harder to maintain their body temperatures when they do drink it. Keep water unfrozen outside and inside with heated water buckets, water tanks, and de-icers.

Horses’ Winter Fiber & Hay Needs

Horses need anywhere from 1.5% – 3% of their body weight in hay to power them through winter. A lot of people think they can offset the horse’s hay intake by feeding him more supplemental feed, but this won’t help your horse maintain his body temperature. There’s a process called fermentation that happens in the horse’s digestive tract when he eats hay. This process creates more heat, helping the horse keep his temperature up. If you feed your horse the appropriate amount of hay and he loses weight, try giving him better quality hay. Remember, alfalfa hay is better than grass hay. If you’re having trouble meeting your horse’s fiber needs through hay, you can supplement with beet pulp. If that doesn’t work, you may need to give him more supplemental feed.

Keeping your horses well fed through the winter is a tough job that takes work and attention. Here are some more helpful articles that will teach you more about your horse’s winter needs.

5 Practical Tips to Winterize Your Horse

Feeding Horses in the Winter

How to Winter Horses