Horse nutrition through winter is a challenge for many owners with low grass growth and high water content of the grass reducing the amount of energy in every kg eaten.
Providing horses with enough feed support, particularly when they are still in work, is important but can be hard to get right. While an exact nutrition plan should be tailored to each horse, there are some simple rules to follow.
Horses require at least 1% of their bodyweight in fibre each day to maintain normal digestive function and help prevent issues such as colic or ulcers; this should form the basis of any feed plan. Over winter, provide plenty of hay and top-up feeds with chaff. Beets and chaff-based feeds are also useful when added to the feed. Base the quantity on dry weight to ensure enough is fed.
Basic vitamin and mineral requirements must be provided for optimal health. Pre-mixed feeds will provide the correct vitamin and mineral balance when fed at supplier recommended rates, so check labels carefully to see if additional supplements are required. Some deficiencies such as Selenium and Magnesium can occur where pasture is deficient in these minerals; speak to your vet about how to check for this.
Horses can only tolerate 2.5kg of concentrate per meal. If your horse is struggling to hold condition over winter, consider changing to a higher calorie feed. Fat-based feeds can be useful to reduce behavioural and health issues associated with excess grain. Grain oils can also be utilised to provide extra energy.
Weighing horse feed seems pedantic but it is crucial to ensure you are on the right track. Watch your horse and tailor the plan to their needs – they will let you know if something isn’t right. If you would like more advice, contact one of the Franklin Vets Equine vets.