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"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
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Winter Feed & Supplements

Topic: Winter Feed
Location: Alberta

Question:
Hi there,
I have been feeding my mare hay that is a mixture of Timothy and something else. I feed her twice a day. I am wondering if adding a mixture oats/carrots to her afternoon feed would help her keep healthy and full of nutrients for winter? Also if i could add apples? Please let me know what your thoughts on this are. How much (measurement) would also be helpful. Thanks! :)
Answer:
Feed depends on many issues, just as with people, each horse needs an individualized program, especially if they'll be in severe weather. The age, condition of the horse, fitness and work schedule for winter, boarding situation (pasture vs. shelter/stalled,) also affect what nutritional needs must be met.
Oats, apples, etc. are all sugars that will do nothing except give your horse more "energy." The first thing you need to address is the quality and type of hay you are feed. All hay is not the same, and you'll need to find out what the percentages are of nutrition in what you are feeding- usually sending a sample to your local Ag center at a University can check this. Also, your horse's dental needs should be up to date. Because horses are eating processed feed, their teeth are not used as they were meant to if they were foraging for food in the wild. Keeping his teeth floated on a regular basis will allow him to get the most nutrition out of his feed by chewing properly without pain.
Horses are well adapted to cold weather. As long as they have shelter from wind and wet, horses can stay comfortable when the temperatures plunge. A south-facing three-sided shelter with straw bedding will see a well-fed horse through the roughest winter weather. However, make sure the shelter is wide rather than deep or you'll find horses low on the pecking order afraid to go in.
Stabled horses need blanketing when they're turned out during the day, but the best blanket for an outside horse is his own full winter coat. If you do blanket your horse, make sure you take it off and brush him often. Also, realize that a blanket that is not warm enough is worse than no blanket at all. In cold weather, the hair coat stands up to trap additional warm air close to the body. A blanket keeps the coat flat.
When temperatures dip, the best heat source for your horse is extra hay. You'll want to make sure your have enough good hay to last through until next year's hay crop. To calculate how much you need, figure on half a square bale per horse per day then add some to cover for the occasional moldy bale or extra cold weather.
If your horses are kept in a pasture, to help make sure that all of your horses get their fair share of hay, spread out one more pile than the number of horses. That way when the boss horse keeps thinking another pile looks better than the one he's presently eating from, the other horses can move to new piles too.
A horse shouldn't lose weight in the winter. In fact, a little extra layer of fat to fend off the cold won't hurt. A thick winter coat can easily hide weight loss so it's important to use hands as well as eyes to monitor winter weight. By the time you see that the horse is getting thinner, it's too late.
One of the most important and sometimes not emphasized enough factors is maintaining the availability and easy access of water to your horse. Depending on your situation, a stock tank heater keeps the water above freezing. Some people believe horses can get by on snow. "Get by" they might, but so could we. Horses require a lot of water to digest dry feed. How much snow would they have to eat to provide the 5 to 10 gallons of water they need? The problem with most horses that have health issues in winter is not enough water- causing an impacted stomach- or colic. Once a horse becomes dehydrated (which they can even in cold temps) they will not want to drink. This can cause severe long term and life threatening health issues.
Below are some options for "weight gain/maintenance" without adding too much sugars or carbohydrates to the diet.
Consider adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplements if you're feeding lower-quality hay. "Be careful when buying special 'winter supplements.' .Most of these are just multi-vitamin/mineral supplements, but cost more because they are called 'winter supplements. Really, any multi-vitamin/mineral will do as long as it is formulated for horses. Some vitamin and mineral supplements are formulated based on the type of forage that is provided for the base of the diet (grass or legume hay, pasture, etc.). Make sure to read the label closely before purchasing and match it to the bulk of your horse's diet.
In other words, there aren't any specific nutrients you should supplement in cold weather vs. warm weather; supplementation is just based on the seasonal change in forage nutrient intake that occurs in horses on pasture (Just as long as the horse is normally on a balanced diet.)
When choosing a supplement, check the label and only buy something that tells you the actual ingredients. For example, something that claims to have high levels of antioxidants, probiotics, vitamins, and minerals in a 'special formula' is a little fishy and would be best to steer away from. Stick with something that tells you specifically what vitamins and minerals are in the product and how much.
How quickly a supplement begins to produce an effect depends on the type of supplement. If its base is water-soluble, then only a couple of days to a week is needed. If it is fat-soluble, it may take a couple of weeks to months.
In addition to increasing hay rations, some owners prefer switching from oats to corn or a sweet feed in the winter. The change from oats to corn or a sweet feed is based on the impression that corn or sweet feed is a 'hotter' feed than oats. This concept of oats being a summer feed and corn a winter ration has some merit, but also has some flaws.

One pound of corn has more energy and is lower in protein and fiber than one pound of oats. But not only does corn have more energy per pound than oats, corn also weighs more per unit of volume. One coffee can full of corn has about 45% more calories than the same coffee can full of whole oats. So if a horse goes from one can of oats to one can of corn, his energy intake (from grain) is increased by about 45%. This has led to the idea that corn is a 'hotter' feed than oats. Actually, because of the higher fiber level in oats, oats produce more internal heat during digestion than corn.
Although corn or oats alone provide adequate calories, they do not offer adequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. Horses do better, winter and summer, on a high-quality, balanced diet of good-quality hay and a high-quality, fortified commercial feed.
Rice bran can also be added into the winter diet. Rice bran is beneficial to the horse that could use a little extra weight, or is still in training, because it adds energy in the form of fat and extra fiber to the diet to increase heat of fermentation. Rice bran is very palatable, so it will also stimulate a picky horse to eat and will increase the energy density of the diet.
Through some trial and error you'll find the "right" balance for your horse.
Good Luck,
Sam

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