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Keeping Weight on in Winter

Published: 2/1/2010
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

When you consider this summer’s poor hay quality and this winter's cold weather , many readers have mentioned their struggles with maintaining their horses’ weight.

Here are some tips.

Many thanks to Dr. Rachel Flaherty of Back Cove Equine for her comments and suggestions.

Adding or upping amounts of beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, alfalfa cubes, hay cubes, hay stretcher pellets are all good ways to increase calories and nutrition. It’s a great idea to soak all these feeds, Flaherty told me.

Forage is an excellent option. Consider Lucerne Farms forages.

Increasing grain and/or switching to a more complete feed is ok..

BUT care should be exercised whenever you make changes to a horse’s diet. You may want to consult with your vet about diet changes for your horse, since there can be many health issues associated with increases in grain, especially.

- Upping grain amount can lead to colic (one rescued Waldoboro horse this winter died from colic when his new owners gave him lots of grain right away)

- Giving unsoaked cubes can cause choke in vulnerable horses (those with poor teeth, those with a tendency to bolt their food, those with a history of choke)

- Oil can give some horses diarrhea

- Horses with metabolic issues probably aren’t the ribby ones, but still, be careful when giving these horses a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods.

- Protein-rich foods (with a lot of clover and/or alfalfa) can be difficult to digest and give some animals too much energy, says Flaherty.

Dengie, Chopped Hay, Forage – those are all terms for chopped grasses, usually preserved with a bit of molasses and purchased in 50-pound blocks. Some are mostly timothy. Some are high in alfalfa. Dengie can be a good addition to a horse’s diet. Again, use care in giving large quantities or making sudden changes.

I like CocoSoya oil and have been giving it to my toothless Shetland. I give her a few ounces per feed and the others get one ounce per feed. Corn oil has been recommended to me, too. It's cheap and you can buy it right off the supermarket shelf.

But while it’s obviously high in calories, not all horses tolerate oil. They will tell you by either just not eating it (even when poured on top of grain) OR having running stool. Use care.

Send us your tricks for keeping the weight on this winter!

View Reader Comments:

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2/1/2010 NancyLee
I LOVE Lucerne Hi-Fiber Gold Forage Feed; I've added 4 quarts of this plus 2 pounds Nutrena Empower, a source of rice bran, over a 4 week period, to my very hard keeper's daily feed ration (split between 2 meals) and this winter she is doing much better! I also have a young mare who was getting ribby this winter and gradually added a pound of the Empower and 2 quarts to her normal grain ration - she too is looking much sleaker. Even my 25 y.o. chubbette is getting the Lucerne forage product and seems quite satisfied with her fare!
2/2/2010 Holly
I am the master chef to my soon-to-be 30 year old quarterhorse. I have had wonderful success with putting on the last 50lbs he needed and maintaining it well! He gets poulin grain complete(contains beet pulp and alfalfa),with some poulin Sr(which contains glucosamine) with soaked beet pulp and alfalfa cubes(heated, of course!).He has his own personal microwave and a a camping cooler to heat and contain his gourmet mixture! I add extra water, oil in the warmer weather, and rice bran with seakelp. The cubes are 1/2 alfalfa, 1/2 timothy, the beet pulp is shredded. He also gets free-choice Lucern farms dengie. I order 50lbs of carrots from our local market weekly(they know me by name and always alert me to the latest sale on carrots!) He only gets the smaller ends, leaving the large parts of the carrots to be cut up for the others! I feed him 5 times daily and he looks fabulous! He cannot eat hay due to the fact he has 3 teeth missing on one side. ( we had a scary choke with him in acadia this fall, so his hay chewing days are over)He can eat grass, so I am praying for spring and lower feed bills! His grocery list is long and it takes alot of time and diligence to feed this boy right! I love every time consuming moment! It is such a reward to see him in excellent condition and still going strong!
2/2/2010 Louise
Winter feeding is difficult during the best winters but don't forget the water. A horse can't digest properly or keep warm well without a high level of fluids inside him/her. Having a water heater in that tank is expensive but it's cheaper than a sick horse. Horses should drink around 10 gallons a day and like us when it's cold water they might not drink as much as they should.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill