For many horse owners, winter poses numerous challenges for horse care. Undoubtedly, one of the most frustrating situations to be in is watching your horse loose condition. To prevent this from happening we first need to understand why it happens.
The most common reasons for a horse to loose condition over the winter months is a combination of:
- Your horse eating fewer kilos of food per day
- The food your horse is eating is less calorific
Why is this? Remember fibre should make up over 70% of our horse’s diets, and horses can get calories from fibre. This includes the grass, hay or haylage your horse is eating. In the winter months there is simply less grass available for you horse to eat, and it is less calorific than in the summer. So, even if he is spending the same number of hours in the field, he wont be able to eat as much.
As a result of there being less grass available, our horses are supplemented with hay or haylage. Both hay and haylage are less calorific than grass on a dry weight basis, and contain far less protein.
What’s the solution?
If your horse is prone to loosing condition over winter months, choose a hay or haylage of high nutritive value (this can only be evaluated using forage analysis). Remember, forage fibre is the mainstay of the diet, and improving the quality and volume of fibre in the diet will be safer, cheaper and more beneficial to your horse than simply increasing the volume of hard feed fed.
Offer your horse additional forage while grazing during the day, to try and increase the volume of food your horse is eating per day. If feeding hay in the fields is not permitted at your yard then consider offering 2-3kg of a forage replacer (high energy chaffs or beet products) in a large bucket.
Top Tip: Take ultimate control of your horses’ diet and weigh how much hay or haylage he is eating on a daily basis. If your horse is fed forage “ad-lib” weigh the volume you put into the stable, and then weigh the volume left over in the morning.
What else can I do? Horses have small stomachs for their size. They are designed to trickle feed for at least sixteen hours daily. The hard feed we offer our horses should reflect this, keeping meal size small, but frequent. If you are trying to support weight gain, try splitting the volume of feed into three or four meals a day instead of two. Topping these meals up with 100ml of Linseed Oil will increase the calorie content of the meal, without increasing bulk, and have the added bonus of improving skin and coat condition.
Lastly, with fibre being the mainstay of the horses’ diet, it makes sense to try and support fibre digestion. Fibre digestion in the horse is carried out in the hindgut by hundred and millions of microbes. These microbes break down fibre and in turn release fatty acids which can be absorbed through the wall of the hindgut and used by the horse as an energy source. As well as fatty acids, these microbes produce a whole host of useful B-vitamins which are essential for a healthy metabolism. Feeding pre and pro-biotics on a daily basis helps to support hindgut health. Examples of prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and mannooligosaccharides (MOS), while yeasts are the only probiotic which can legally be fed to horses in the UK. These pre and pro-biotics can be found in Science Supplements Gut Balancer.
- One of the most common reasons horses loose weight over the winter is because there is less food available for them to eat, and the food which is available contains less calories than what they have access to in the summer months.
- Promote condition by increasing the amount of fibre your horse is eating, and choosing fibre sources which are higher in calories.
- Make sure meal sizes stay small, and divide hard feed between three or four meals per day.
- Adding linseed oil to feeds will increase the calorie content of the meal without increasing the meal size.
- Feeding a Gut Balancer is a useful way of supporting the hindgut to maximise fibre digestion.
For more information regarding the Science Supplements range, or for free, impartial nutritional advice, please contact us.