North Carolina is known for mild winters; however, there are still a few things that horse owners should think about in order to keep their equine friends happy and healthy during these colder months.
It happens every year during the winter, some horses put on extra weight and some start to look too skinny. The best way to tell if your horse is getting enough food (or too much) is to monitor their Body Condition Score (BCS). Most horses require 1.5 – 2 % of their body weight in forages and feed a day to maintain the proper BCS (which most experts agree is a 5 on a scale from 1 to 9). This means that for a 1,000 pound animal, they will need to consume 15-20 pounds a day. Of course, a majority of that should come from forages. Horses that are “easy keepers” may require a little less to maintain their BCS and older horses, horses with certain medical problems or those that are just plain harder to keep may require a little more to stay at their ideal weight. Likewise, horses that are kept in a stall during the colder winter months might not need as much as horses that are on pasture all winter. The following article from the University of Maine describes body condition scoring and what to look for when doing so. The main thing is to just be aware of your horse’s BCS and how it changes throughout the winter.
With all this talk on feeding, don’t forget the water! Cooler months usually lead to periods of inactivity, changes in diet and drinking less water than normal. All of these have the tendency to raise the incidence of impaction colic. A typical horse should drink between 8-12 gallons of fresh water a day to ensure that the normal bodily functions continue to stay “normal”. Horses like their water between 45-65°F and free of ice. This is often hard to do during the coldest months of the year. To guarantee that your horse’s water is adequate, check buckets at least twice a day, emptying the icy cold water and replacing it with fresh, warmer water. If twice a day water checks are not feasible, then you may want to check into some automatic de-icers. Most experts advise that you continue to offer access to free choice mineral/salt blocks throughout the winter months, as this will also increase their intake of water.
For more information on winter feeding, body condition scoring your animal or anything else mentioned in this post, please don’t hesitate to contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.