As autumn approaches, the nights begin to draw in and the temperature drops, now is the time to think about how to keep your horse happy and healthy throughout the autumn and winter months, by making sure his nutritional needs are met.
With the drop in temperature in autumn and winter comes a loss of nutrients from grass and the need to replace what is missing from the grass with an alternative form of forage such as hay or haylage. This forage will then provide your horse with his essential calories throughout the winter.
What you can do now
If your horse has been out on grass all summer, it is sensible to start to gradually introduce hay or haylage into his diet. This is so microbes living in the hindgut can adjust to the change in forage, helping to prevent digestive upset. Additionally, checking your horse’s condition now and body scoring using a suitable body condition scoring chart such as that available from KER – will help you to assess your horse’s dietary needs for the winter.
DID YOU KNOW?
As well as supplying essential calories, your horse’s winter forage keeps him centrally heated. This central heating prevents him losing condition from getting cold, and the better quality the forage, the more heat is generated.
It’s all about the Forage!!
Whatever the season, forage should always be the foundation of your horse’s diet. The horse’s digestive system has evolved over many years to consume a high fibre, forage based diet. The fibre is broken down into energy through a process called fermentation by the billions of microbes residing in the horse’s hindgut. Forage keeps these gut microbes happy and as they ferment the fibre, heat is released. This is particularly important in winter when the temperature drops, helping to keep your horse warm from the inside.
The amount of good quality forage your horse needs over winter is an important consideration. Horses need to eat 2% of their body weight per day so with a 100% forage diet that’s 10kg per day for the average 500kg horse!
Ideally forage should be provided as a constant supply, or ‘ad lib’. This can be easily done by putting hay or haylage out in the paddock over the winter, in addition to what the horse receives if he is stabled overnight or during the day. A constant supply of forage will ensure your horse’s gut microbes are kept healthy and healthy microbes = a healthy horse!
Benefits of Balancers
Whilst a forage-only diet can easily meet the energy (calorie) requirements for most horses in light – moderate work, it is unlikely to provide a fully balanced supply of micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and quality protein such as lysine, which is often low in UK forage.
To give your horse the micro-nutrients and protein he needs it is a good idea to feed a balancer. A balancer is a nutrient dense feed designed to be fed in very small amounts, and when fed alongside forage, will balance the diet and ensure all your horse’s daily vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are met for optimum health.
A good quality balancer should be your ideal choice, containing only wholesome, nutritious ingredients to provide superior nutrition without the use of cereal by-products, fillers and GMO ingredients. Balancers often contain other beneficial ingredients such as probiotic live yeasts, which have been shown to enhance fibre fermentation, allowing your horse to get the most out of his forage diet and further enhancing his health over the winter months.
A forage only diet with a balancer may not satisfy energy requirements for some horses over the winter, for example, elderly or hard working horses who may start to drop a little weight.
Excess calories introduced into the diet from feeds containing good quality sources of fibre and suitably cooked cereals e.g. micronised cereals, which are highly digestible, should help them to gain weight and condition. Micronised cereals contain calories in the form of non-structural carbohydrates (starch), which are easily broken down to sugars in the small intestine and released into the bloodstream as an energy source. If the energy released exceeds the horses’ requirements it will then be laid down as fat. Therefore, if a forage based diet with balancer fed to daily requirements does not keep condition on your horse, then a suitable additional feed should be considered.
So to keep you horse happy and healthy throughout the winter months consider these key points:
• Make sure your horse has plenty of good quality forage, fed in a constant supply to meet daily requirements.
• Add a good quality balancer to optimise nutrition and health.
• Add in extra feed if your horse struggles to maintain condition on a forage only diet.
Always remember healthy microbes = healthy horse!!
Contributor: Lisa Elliott – Equine Nutritionist at Smart Horse Nutrition
Smart Horse Nutrition is a brand new feed company on mission to allow you to take control of your horse’s diet. By providing you with the 3 essential building blocks of a balanced diet – micro nutrients (Smart Balance), macro nutrients (a Smart Muesli) and fibre, Smart allows every horse’s diet to be tailored exactly to its individual needs, for the benefit of your horse’s health and your pocket.
For more information see www.smarthorsenutrition.com, Tel: 01497 570345, or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org