received a letter with concerns that I was misleading on my
advice for feeding grain during the winter months. Even though
my instructions were in reference to horses in work and training
only, I have quoted the feeding instructions from the "Horse
Owner's Veterinary HandBook" to clarify and explain the best
approach for all horses.
energy is the principal dietary concern in cold weather. Protein,
vitamin, and mineral needs are increased slightly. In winter,
it is important to feed a ration that gives off a lot of heat.
High-quality hay is best for this purpose and is preferred over
grain. This is because roughages are digested by bacterial fermentation
in the cecum and colon, which produes a great deal of heat.
If high-quality roughage is available and the horse has unlimited
access to it, it is unlikely that you will need to feed concentrates.
However, if high-quality roughage is not available, or the horse
loses body weight and condition, then feed some grain.
grains are satisfactory, but corn has certain advantages. Corn
generates twice as much energy as an equal volume of oats. Accordingly,
less volume needs to be fed in order to produce the same amount
of energy. This leaves more room in the digestive tract for
hay. This is the main reason why corn is preferred by many horsemen
as a winter feed. (For more information, see "More Thoughts
If the proportions of grain in the ration exceeds 40 percent,
consider feeding a fat supplement also.
requirements for horses in cold weather are often overlooked.
Water sources can feeze over. Occasionally the water is too
cold for the horse to drink, especially if the horse has bad
teeth. A drop in water consumption results in a drop in food
consumption and therefore in energy. It will then be difficult
for the horse to keep up its weight and body temperature. Inadequate
water consumption may cause the stool to become hard and difficult
to pass. This is why constipation and rectal impactions are
much more common in freezing weather.
heaters should be placed in outdoor tanks to keep the temperature
in the trough above 45 degrees F. It is important to insure
that the water heater is functioning properly by checking the
If the water heater shorts out, the shock may not be severe
enough to injure the horse, but it will keep him from drinking.
In extremely cold weather, remove ice several times a day. Horses
have been known to live on snow for limited periods. This is
not ideal and should not be relied upon to supply water needs."
Thoughts on Feeding
from Susan Gordon
a quick note concerning your recommendation for corn as a preferred
winter feed... We have Spanish-Norman horses, which are Percheron/Andalusian
crosses, and it's been documented that this type of horse, as
well as several other draft, WB, and *rounder* type horses,
can have big time problems with corn, and/or other high carb
feeds. Dr. Beth Valentine (www.ruralheritage.com) did extensive
studies in conjunction with Cornell University regarding this,
and it's been found that many horses, if not most, do much better
on a low carb diet. Consequently, even though your advice that
feeding more hay than grain is right on the money, suggesting
corn might not be. Horses who have sensitivity (and there seems
to be a lot) do best on a diet consisting of more hay than grain,
but with higher fat and protein supplementation rather than
carbs if they need to be fed *grain*. The benefits are great.
In addition to reducing or eliminating many health and behavior
problems, a low carb diet will also eventually reduce the amount
of your feed bill.
feed our horses the best quality grass hay we can get, basically
as much as they can eat, and a VERY SMALL amount (<2 lbs. per
day for mature draft mares) of *grain*, which is a combination
of 1 part Purina Senior, 1 part Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, 1
part Buckeye Ultimate Finish and 2 parts Beet Pulp, amounts
adjusted accordingly for each horse. Some might get a little
more, some a little less. We have some of the healthiest, slickest,
bright eyed and best conditioned horses I've seen. And I've
seen a lot in the 35+ years I've had horses.
know that in writing to you that I'm not trying to sound like
some kind of know-it-all. It's just that I've experienced first
hand the kind of problems that can be caused by feeding a high
carb diet, the least of which are horses who might get too hot.
Considering that Warmbloods and many other sporthorse types
which are draft crosses have become so popular, and also taking
into consideration that this type of horse is most likely to
develop problems from a high carb diet, I would really like
to think you might reconsider recommending corn as a preferred