Feeding in winter is an art, keeping your horse full of health through the coldest months of the year is challenging but we’re here to help.
Our tip is to feed hay/haylage from the floor where possible
Biomechanically, horses are designed to have their heads down when they eat. Grass grows on the ground and so for a horse, walking, grazing and chewing with their heads down is what they are made to do. There are several distinct benefits to a horses health when they eat this way but when we put a horse in a stable and tie a hay net up at chest height, this encourages the horse to have his head up. This can be further exacerbated by the walls of the stable not allowing a horse to see his surroundings – to be able to see whilst his head down is important when you might have a tiger or a lion stalking you. When horses are in for long periods over winter things are really working against what is natural, and comfortable for them.
Feeding conserved forage (hay or haylage) on the floor in the stable is an opportunity to encourage a more natural position for eating and it has the following distinct benefits:
- Teeth alignment is at it best when their heads are down, meaning they are able to chew fibre down to the ideal particle size (around 4mm), this allows for better digestion/fermentation in the hindgut, allowing more nutrients to be generated.
- Better teeth alignment also means molars will seat better and less hooks and spurs will need correcting by your dentist
- Lung drainage is very natural for horses with a clear fluid being produced by the lungs, this is a natural flushing mechanism to get rid of dust and allergens but this fluid comes out via gravity. With a horse head up, this fluid can trap in lungs causing respiratory conditions. Horses always cough more when they are in during the winter and this can be a contributing factor.
- Topline. We all want more topline for our horse so encouraging downward stretching and movement is best, horses eating from haynets encourages muscle growth on the underside, not the topside
We understand it’s not always easy to feed hay successfully off the ground with horses dragging it across their beds, trampling it and pooping on it etc. If this is the case for you there are feeders available now that allow controlled feeding at ground level – we know of a few so feel free to contact us if you’d like to know the names of them. Also these can help regulate how long it takes them to eat their hay, this is good for the types that eat rather quickly.
Stay warm and stay tuned we’ll be back in touch soon with more tips to help you through the winter.