Feeding for Warmth

Zelda is cozy in her new blanket
Blanketing is one of the tricks to keeping your horse warm, but equally important is the warmth that horses generate from eating forage.

As the Northeast prepares for a winter storm tomorrow (we’re supposed to get a foot of snow and then bone chilling cold), I’m strategizing about the horses.

Although our horses don’t get put in stalls at night, they have access to run in sheds where they can get out of the snow and wind. Both horses also now outfitted in their heavy weight Rambo blankets, which is more than they typically wear. So far, Zelda has managed to keep hers on!

Equally important though, is helping them generate their own heat.

Horses produce heat when they digest feed — especially when the microbes in their gut digest high fiber feeds such as hay.  This is a time of year when we always have hay in front of the horses. I also give them soaked hay cubes when I feed. Hay cubes are long-stem forage and they also have the advantage of hydrating the horses. Freedom loves his soaked cubes; Zelda tolerates them but since they are edible, she generally finishes them up.

According to the North Dakota State University Agriculture Department, horses with a good winter coat do fine in calm dry weather down to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. For each 10 degree drop below that, horses need an additional two pounds of feed per day, assuming the feed has the energy density of hay (approximately 1 megacalorie per pound).

Once the wind picks up to 10 to 15 mph, horses need to consume an additional 4-8 pounds of hay to meet their energy requirements. And, if there’s both wind and wet snow, the horse may need to eat an additional 10-14 pounds of hay.  That’s really starting to add up and not all horses will consume that much. In that case, it may be necessary to feed additional grain.

I’m hedging my bets. Freedom and Zelda get as much hay as they want but I’ve also added some extra grain to their rations. Now I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping that the weather doesn’t live up to the forecast.


2 thoughts on “Feeding for Warmth

  1. I had no idea there were so many different factors to think about when feeding horses. Granted, I’ve never had to care for a horse by myself, but this seems to be a rather tricky business. What do you do when your horse doesn’t want to eat so much hay? You can’t stuff them full of grain or they’ll get the zoomies?

  2. Some horses, like Zelda and Curly, are pretty easy because they’ll vacuum up a lot of hay! Freedom is a bit trickier. I buy beautiful second cut hay but he’s not always that interested. Long stem forage is what’s good for them so I try to feed him alternatives such as soaked hay cubes or soaked beet pulp, but I also add some hay stretcher pellets to their ration so that they get more calories without going nuts.

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