If there’s one thing we dread, it’s the cold, dark nights of winter – freezing water pipes, increased workload at the yard and the endless mud! Winter weather brings with it the prospect of horses spending more time in their stables and less grass in the fields. Unfortunately, along with the unavoidable downfalls of cold wet weather, the horses can also suffer from several nutritional and health challenges at this time of year; including respiratory issues, problems with their digestive wellbeing and excitable behaviour. So, here are the top tips from our equine feed specialist, Joss, to help you manage the transition from summer to winter and help keep your horses’ nutritional health in check
- Make feed changes gradually – both to forage type and concentrate feed. The horse’s digestive system is extremely sensitive and the micro-organisms which break down the food need time to adapt to new feeds.
- Build up time in the stable progressively – this will help to minimise stress, along with the added benefit of changing the diet from grass to hay/haylage more gradual.
- Do not overfeed – it can be tempting to feed large quantities of concentrates straight away, but try to avoid this. Monitor your horse’s weight by condition scoring or using a weigh tape, then you can build up feed as and when necessary. Most horses will come in from the summer carrying a little extra weight, unless they have been in very hard work. It is natural for horses to put on a little weight over the summer months, which can then be lost over the winter.
- Choose a suitable forage – the majority of an equine’s diet should be made up of forage; between 70 – 100% in fact, depending on workload. Different types of forage (e.g. mature hay, meadow hay, ryegrass haylage, etc) will all have varying levels of energy, protein and fibre, so try to find one which is suitable for your individual horse.
- Avoid a dusty environment – be vigilant about soaking or steaming any dusty hay and try to avoid hay which looks or smells mouldy. The other consideration is bedding. Pick one which is as dust free as possible; there are plenty available on the market now, including our own Peer Span shavings which are purpose produced for horse bedding and come in very large 25kg bags – ask in store for our bulk discount offers.
Sometimes, even with perfect management procedures and feeding practices, some horses may still struggle with the change in seasons and routine – we all know at least one delicate diva on the yard! In these cases, some feed supplementation may be beneficial to help keep your horse on the right track.
As with most supplement ranges, it’s about finding the right product for your horse. Respiratory products can cater for a multitude of issues; allergies (dust or pollen), coughing, wheezing or simply a drop in performance. They are commonly split into two categories; the upper respiratory tract (mucous build up, noisy breathing) and the lower respiratory tract (coughing, poor performance).
Below are some of our top picks:
Global Herbs Dust-X
A unique blend of herbs devised to assist horses who struggle to cope with a dusty environment. This may be due to bedding or a mouldy batch of hay; whatever the cause, Dust X can be used to help open the airways and keep coughing to a minimum. One of the main ingredients is a herb called turkey berry which in humans has been used to improve asthma symptoms and reduce coughing. Available in both liquid and powder forms, it can be used for short periods when needed or longer term for horses who are more sensitive to dust and need a little extra help.
Equine America Airways
This product contains peppermint oil and menthol; so although it has quite a powerful smell, most horses will be happy to eat it, which can be useful when feeding a fussy horse. These ingredients also help to open the airways and clear any low-level congestion in the upper respiratory tract. Airways can be used continuously as required or for short periods of time if the problem is only temporary
Several changes occur in the winter which can alter the way the digestive system works and put it under strain. A decrease in turn out time and a lack of good quality grazing can alter the amount and type of feed that is available to our horses. As it takes a few weeks for the digestive system to fine tune itself to any new feeds, look out for problems such as loose droppings, weight loss and excitable behaviour which are some of the signs that suggest the horse may be struggling to adjust. A vet should always be called if the horse drops weight rapidly, has diarrhoea or has symptoms of other digestive problems. Probiotics are often included in gut supplements; their function is to improve the balance of microflora in the gut. Look out for ingredients such as saccharomyces cerevisiae or brewer’s yeast.
Protexin Gut Balancer
This product contains both prebiotics and probiotics, which have beneficial effects on the healthy bacteria and micro-organisms in the gut. It can be used for general maintenance of the digestive system throughout the year or can be particularly useful when the horse is stressed and when their routine or diet has changed. Equines prone to regular digestive upset may also benefit. Protexin also supply other products for gut health – their salt licks contain both pre and pro biotics and Quick Fix is a concentrated syringe version of the gut balancer, which is useful for horses whose digestive systems may be upset by a sudden stress, such as travelling or following worming or other medication.
Vitamins & Minerals – General Health
Through the winter, the goodness in the grass decreases and there are less daylight hours which can limit the amount of vitamins and minerals accessible to our horses. For horses that live out over the winter months or those on small quantities of hard feed, it may be worth considering an all-purpose vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer. If you are concerned about a drop in condition, a dull coat or other obvious signs that your horse may be under the weather, a more specific immune supplement could be given short term as a boost to the immune system.
Feed balancers – There are many of these on the market …how on earth do you choose one?
If you have an older horse, look for a senior balancer which may contain higher levels of vitamin C and E (antioxidants which help with the immune system) and joint support in the form of glucosamine, MSM or Omega 3.
Performance horses may benefit from elevated levels of Vit E and selenium for muscle health as well as good quality protein. Stud balancers are appropriate for broodmares and youngstock but also for horses in hard work as they contain high levels of nutrients and are an excellent protein source. They are not conditioning so if your horse is prone to weight loss then consider a complete cube or mix instead to ensure you provide plenty of additional forage and fibre sources such as a beet or alfalfa.
For good doers and those in little or no work, there are even lower calorie options available in the balancer range. They are normally either referred to as ‘light’ or ‘low calorie’ and provide all the nutrients the horse requires whilst limiting any calorie intake. It is still important to feed some forage alongside this, as restricting the diet too much can cause other health and behaviour issues.
Whatever you are doing with your horses this winter, bear in mind that their nutrition is of utmost importance to ensure that you maintain good condition and give them enough energy to effectively perform the job you are asking them to do. If you feel you need some further nutrition advice then please do pop into store and have a chat with Joss who will be happy to help.
If you are concerned about their weight, then why not take advantage of our weigh bridge service to get an accurate picture of where your horses are in relation to where they should be. Visit our services pages for more information.