Ashley Neely BSc, SQP from Bluegrass Horse Feeds highlights the key points to consider when altering your horses’ diet for autumn and winter.
As the temperatures begin to fall and the leaves start to turn brown, we start looking at our winter exercise and feeding plans. Regular condition scoring throughout the year is a great way to help monitor your horses’ weight and plan for the seasons ahead. Naturally, horses will increase their body weight over summer months to start autumn and winter with enough coverage and fat reserves to support them through the colder months and drop in forage quality. For the “poor doers” increasing calorie content will help to encourage weight gai; oil or fat based products such as Bluegrass Turmash or Flax Plus can help to achieve this.
Remember, management practises will impact natural changes; for example, rugging, clipping and exercise. Therefore, before making any changes, assess not just the diet but the status and workload too. Over Rugging has been reported to contribute towards obesity or laminitis issues specifically in native breeds, by blocking natural hormone fluctuations.
It is recommended to feed a minimum of 1.5% -2% of body weight in forage per day to maintain overall health and normal digestive function. Horses are hindgut fermenters; fibrous products are digested in the ceacum by bacterial fermentation producing volatile fatty acids (VFA). As a by-product, heat is produced during the fermentation process, thus feeding extra forage on a cold winter night is more beneficial than heating up a warm mash.
The quality of grass begins to decrease throughout autumn and often horses living out may require extra forage to meet their daily requirements. Key nutrients that may be lacking in the grass or forage can be supplemented by a balancer such as Bluegrass Stamm 30.
The choice of feeding either hay or haylage often comes down to factors like availability or special dietary considerations such as laminitis, PPID, COPD or EMS. Conventionally, hay would be the first choice when dealing with some health problems including obesity. Respiratory health is always on the forefront of our minds, with recent studies showing our previous practises of soaking hay to be less effective than we first thought. Spraying hay with water has been shown to reduce respirable dust by 43% and soaking by 90%, however, Moore – Colyer et al 2015 and Wyss & Pradervand, 2016 reported that soaking hay can increase the overall bacterial content of the hay. Ideally high temperature steaming is the best practise to eliminate respirable dust and reduce non-structural carbohydrates.
Keep in mind that laminitis is still a risk in autumn as correct climate conditions can lead to a growth in grass and high fructose levels. Using grazing muzzles or restricting paddock sizes may be needed for at risk horses. Changes in the diet can cause imbalances and microbial changes in the gut therefore all changes should be made gradually. Speak with your nutritional advisor if you have any concerns when changing your diet.