As the colder weather settles in, many of our forages will lose nutritional value. This is especially true for warm season grasses such as Bermuda. This change can lead to nutritional challenges for many horses due to:
- Insufficient Nutrients Through Grass
- Over Supplementation Through Complete Feeds
- Additional Calories Burned to Stay Warm
So, what’s the best option when substituting forage to maintain your horse’s body condition? The answer is not to substitute it at all. Providing sufficient forage in the form of free choice hay is best to maintain a horse’s natural diet through the winter.
Unfortunately, not all hay is created equally, and one type of hay may work better for your horse than another. Below are a few tips to consider when choosing the best hay for your horse.
Alfalfa hay, due to its imbalanced mineral and low-quality protein content, can create several issues in horses:
- Calcium and Phosphorus Imbalances
- Excessive Urine Production
- Joint Inflammation
Many of these problems can create other issues as well. For example, the increased urine produces excess ammonia that can eat away at the bottom of the hoof or create respiratory problems in the horse. This is especially true for horses who remain stalled for long periods of time or in barns that are not well ventilated.
Unfortunately, alfalfa hay is the easiest type of hay to obtain in many regions around the world. It is also the only option of hay for certain areas. If alfalfa hay is your only option, be mindful of the amount you are feeding.
Hay and Nutrient Requirements
Horses in different stages of life and disciplines will have distinctive nutrient requirements. For example, growing horses and performance horses will have a higher protein and nutrient demand than a retired horse. As you are choosing hay, be mindful of the horse you are feeding and try to find a hay that meets its requirements.
Early-season hays usually yield more protein and nutrients and will be more desirable to horses that need the additional protein and nutrient requirements. Mid-to-late maturity hay tends to be a better fit for horses with lower nutrient demands. The only way to know if your horse is receiving the optimal hay is to have your hay tested. Once you know the nutritional value of the hay, you can make an informed decision.
Utilize Hay Balancers
Even the highest quality hay will not contain every nutrient that your horse requires. Utilizing a high-quality hay and pasture balancer, such as Barn Bag®, will help ensure your horse’s daily nutrient requirements are being met. It also eliminates the necessity to feed compound feeds, which can deliver a surplus of both nutrients and calories to your horse’s diet. Utilizing a pasture balancer is highly recommended for elderly horses and hard keepers.
Some horses, such as hard keepers or performance horses, will require additional calories during the winter months to maintain body condition. Although compound feeds can provide the necessary calories, they also put your horse at risk for over supplementation. Below are a few feeding recommendations if your horse needs additional calories in addition to the hay being fed:
Other Winter-Feeding Tips
Additional winter-feeding tips to consider:
- Feed Chopped Hay to elderly horses that are unable to chew properly
- Build body condition in the summer/fall to maintain through winter
- Horses are grazers, so keep feeding troughs low to the ground
- Hay should be made available to the horse 24/7
Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions on maintaining your horse’s body condition score through the winter. Feel free to contact us at 256-370-7555 if you have any questions on Barn Bag® or feeding a natural diet to your horse. Visit our website for further information on equine nutrition.