Feeding horses during the winter months can prove to be a real challenge and this is especially true when it comes to maintaining older horses in good condition. According to the experts horse owners need to feed fibre to their horses first because this is vital for hind gut function. Not only this but fibre is crucial for a horse's digestive process and helps keep your horse warm during the cold winter weather.
Feeding fibre to your horse has many benefits which includes supplying slow-release energy, feeding good quality forage also reduces the risk of colic. Hay tends to be expensive because over recent years the weather has been particularly bad and this always pushes up the price. With this said you really do need to make sure your horse gets all the fibre they need but you also need to ensure you don't waste any hay unnecessarily.
It is really important to keep your horse both happy and stimulated and the best way to do this with stabled horses is to make sure they have free access to hay, haylage or chopped fibre. You can offer them carrots and apples too as this is a great method of upping their fibre intake without having to spend too much money. It also encourages your horse to forage which is a very good thing for them to do when they are stabled for longer periods of time.
One very good idea is to hang one net full of hay and another one full of haylage in your horse's stable. You could also add a bucket of chaff and this will keep them pretty busy whilst offering them a variety of things to munch on. This will keep your horse happy for hours as they nibble on each of the haynets chopping and changing as they please.Hanging a couple of haynets in your horse's stable will also reduce the amount of wastage. If you feed forage to horses in their fields, then make sure you place this is a feed rack to avoid any wastage through trampling. A lot of hay if put on the ground simply gets spoiled by horses walking on it.One way of making hay and haylage last that little bit longer is to mix it up with some very good quality barley or oat straw. However, if you do decide to do this you have to keep an eye on your horse's droppings to make sure they are regular. This is a great forage mix for good doers too but if your horse has a delicate digestive system, then it is best to avoid mixing their hay with barley or oat straw even if it is the best quality because it could cause your horse to have an impaction.
Sometimes finding a reliable source of good quality hay can be a challenge too but you can feed your horse hay replacers when you do get stuck. It is far better to do this than accept second rate forage. Hay replacers are chopped fibre-based feeds that are formulated to specifically provide a similar type of nutrition as haylage or hay. One good thing about feeding hay replacers, is you can feed your horse up to 100% of their diet with them so this does cut down on any hard feed bills you might have over winter.Make sure you look at the ingredients on the hay replacers you find at your feed merchants and choose those that contain added vitamins and minerals. Horses find hay replacers very palatable so are less likely to waste it, which ultimately means you are not spending money on any forage that ends up as bedding in your horse's stable.
You have to remember that out in the wild a horse would draw on fat reserves during the winter months. With this in mind don't jump at the first opportunity to supplement your horse's diet especially if they are carrying a little too much weight at the start of the cold weather.If you are concerned about your horse's weight, then giving them a feed supplement that's rich in oil will certainly help boost their calorie intake. Feeding supplements like micronised linseed or rice bran are an ideal choice.
If your horse hunts or carries on competing indoors during the winter months then their feed intake has to increase accordingly to help compensate for both the colder weather and the workload they are asked to do. If your horse has a tendency to 'hot up' you need to choose higher energy feeds making sure they are low in starch but high in digestible oil and fibre.Horse owners need to remember that because horses tend to spend more time stabled during the winter they don't get to do what they like to do best which is to chew. Ignore their need to chew and you might end up with some behavioural problems like the chewing wood in their stables, starting to weave and also windsucking. Then there is the higher risk of colic as well as gastric ulcers which is why it is essential for your horse to have access to good quality forage at all times in constant supply.
You have to source good quality forage for your horse during the winter months as this will ensure that you won't have to give your horse so much hard feed, this will save you a ton of money over the winter months. Good quality forage does represent the best value for money when it comes to feeding your horse.If you feed hay 'ad-lib' to your horse, you will reduce the need to spend so much money on hard feed. Many top nutritionist recommend that horses in light or medium work would only need the addition of a feed balancer and that when high quality forage is fed to a horse it could reduce a winter feed bill by up to a third.
If your horse really does need a hard feed to help maintain condition and/or provide energy for the work they are asked to do, then you would be better off buying a complete feed for them rather than trying to buy various feeds and supplements which could mean you double up on additives. However, you need to make sure you choose a feed that really is 'complete' and that it contains a broad spectrum of mineral and vitamins and that the feed is specific to your type of horse.Lastly, always keep your eyes open for any offers, loyalty cards as well as money-off promotions. Retailers are always keen to get more custom so you may be surprised at how many offers are out there at any given point in time. Of course the best way to save a lot of money on your winter feed bill is to buy it in bulk. However as not many people have the right sort of storage area to keep large amounts of feed in let alone the space, this is not very often an option.