Winter feeding tip # 3 – Fill the energy gap!
It’s cold! Horses use significantly more energy when it’s cold and if we don’t make sure they are receiving the right amount of energy in their diet, they will lose weight, particularly the sensitive types.
In addition to this grass doesn’t like the cold, so it’s growing rate slows down significantly. This means your horse’s nutrient and energy intake from grass decreases in winter. This happens whilst their requirement for energy is increasing due to the temperature and we end up with an energy gap, or void that needs to be filled to maintain optimal health and condition.
There’s no doubt that some of the gap is filled with conserved forage such as hay or haylage, but this would usually stop short of filling it entirely.
Adopting a proactive approach to feeding more energy in winter is the best way to avoid weight loss rather than being reactionary and waiting for your horse to drop weight – and then trying to do something about it. In Europe usually November is about the month where the grass stops growing and temperature drops significantly so this is the best time to introduce more calories but it can be done at any stage through the winter.
How to do it
There is several ways to increase a horses calorie intake with some more obvious than others.
They are as follows:
- Add oil to the feed. Oil is a starch free, calorie dense ingredient which horses metabolise extremely well, so long as it is introduced gradually. Horses have a dedicated enzyme which breaks down oil in their system called lipase. They do a very good job of this but they need time to develop higher numbers of these enzymes to deal with the increased oil intake. Start with about 5 mls and build up to 30,60,90 or even 120mls or more depending on yours horses unique requirements. Whilst all oils carry a similar calorific value, they are all very different in their omega fatty acid profile so choosing one that has been specifically formulated for horses using high quality cold pressed oils like Key-3 Oil is usually the best route to go. Oil can be easily top dressed over the bucket feed.
- Change your hard feed ration to a conditioning or competition feed – but try to stay within the brand our horse is used to. This will introduce more calories but hopefully keep the nutrient base/sources the same.
- Take a look at the quality of your forage/hay – if you can improve the hay quality this will mean it contains a higher level of energy, as well as protein. This can be done by introducing a bucket of chopped alfalfa to the stable which will improve the overall quality of the fibre intake.
- Introduce an additional source of highly digestible fibre such as sugar beet or Pink Mash. Make sure this is a fibre source that doesn’t contain vitamins and minerals to not interfere with the diets existing nutrient balance
Remember that although your horse may feel well after you have increased his energy intake, this is a good thing and shouldn’t be confused for a horse that is ‘hot or fizzy’. To balance out this energy gap and maintain perfect condition is paramount so remembering we have to put the horses physical welfare ahead of almost all other factors.
Thank you for taking the time to read our most recent tip, keep an eye out for the next Winter Tip.