Extra hay keeps horses warm from the inside

Yesterday and last night we experienced blizzard conditions.  When I woke up this morning we had roughly a foot of snow and bitter cold winds. I strapped on my snow shoes and hoofed it over to the barn as most of the roads hadn’t been plowed.

My dogs came along but probably wished they hadn’t! They both have short legs and even walking in my tracks they found it hard going. Kirby, my Westie, seemed particularly tired and we had to rest a few times on the way.

The horses survived the weather without any issues. Their blankets were stiff with ice and icicles had formed on a few manes, but they were toasty warm and dry underneath them. Even the one mare who doesn’t wear a blanket seemed just fine — even though it was obvious from the food in her stall that she hadn’t gone in all night!

While we all feel better dressing our horses in winter coats,  one of the best ways to keep horses warm in cold weather is by feeding them more forage — hay, alfalfa cubes, or beet pulp. Hay is digested in the cecum and colon and the bacterial fermentation produces heat. According to a recent newsletter from nutritionist Juliet Getty, P.h.D.

A good rule of thumb – for every 10 degrees F below freezing (including wind chill temperature), feed 10% more hay than usual. But better yet, offer grass hay free-choice. His digestive system requires a steady supply of forage and the best way to do this (and the most convenient for you) is to keep hay available at all times, day and night.

Our horses generally do have hay in front of them and I also increase the amount of beet pulp that Freedom gets during the winter months. The added benefit of feeding soaked beet pulp is that it provides another opportunity to hydrate.

We don’t keep water buckets in the stalls during the winter; instead horses have access to heated water tanks. That makes it difficult to assess how much each horse is drinking. I generally soak Freedom’s beet pulp, alfalfa pellets and ration balancer in warm water, which he seems to prefer (he will dump his meal if the water is cold). I also add some stabilized rice bran for some extra palatability and a few more calories.

Tonight the temperatures are going down to the low teens, but with the wind chill, it will feel like zero. Normally each of the horses eats about 20-25 pounds of hay each throughout the day — so tonight we’ll be putting out close to 50 pounds just for the three of them to nibble through the night.

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