Last week was sunny and warm which was quite a contrast from the previous week of sub freezing temps. Unfortunately, this is typical for Central Texas in February. On Monday night it was 80 degrees and by Tuesday morning it was 24 and we did not get above freezing for 3 days. We had multiple nights of lower teens then 3 nice days and then back into the teens, now we have had days of 80 again. These conditions test your holistic horse health program. A few management adjustments and feeding a horse appropriately during this season can help avoid serious problems.
To blanket or not to blanket?
I have gone through my entire winter and summer wardrobe in the last few weeks but my horses still have the same amount of hair. Horses have amazing abilities to fluff up their hair to stay warm but that is not always enough. We can help them when wind and unusually cold weather test their systems. Normally I don’t blanket but all three of my guys were begging for coats to combat the frigid temps and strong winds. Since my horses have heavy winter coats, I use light to mid weight blankets so their hair can still fluff up some.
Shelter, water and food:
There is no need to bring a horse inside during cold weather as long as he can get out of the rain and wind. I am fortunate to have adequate shelters but I still take extra precautions during these wild weather shifts. Making sure the water stays unfrozen is critical and I spent lots of my time carrying hot water to thaw out tubs. Even my big tubs froze almost solid. Feeding a horse during cold weather can be a juggling act between making sure they have enough calories but don’t get impacted from too much feed and not enough water to digest it properly. I like to add hot water to make bran mashes for my horses to keep them hydrated. My crew loves bran mashes, especially on a cold morning.
Typical bran mash during cold weather:
Regular amount of feed
1/2 grain scoop dry bran(about 1/2 pound)
Hot water until soupy
Carrots or 1 tsp molasses for extra flavor
1 TBS salt or electrolytes if weather is very dry
I don’t significantly increase the grain portion of the diet but I do give extra hay. Digesting hay generates heat for the horse and a little bit of alfalfa can keep the manure a bit softer. I was careful to watch the manure to make sure everyone was drinking enough water. If I had seen the manure getting too dry I would have cut back the hay, added some electrolytes and increased probiotics.
I gave 1 pack of algae, enzymes and probiotic capsules for each horse during the wild weather in addition to their usual supplements. I have found this product, which contains probiotics, enzymes and blue green algae, helps my horses handle stress, supports good gut motility and keeps their immune systems strong. My favorite powdered algae blend is another great product and if I normally give 1 tsp I jump to 2 tsp during inclement weather. It seems to me the horses drink better when they get these supplements. Even my goats were eating extra amounts of free choice kelp and they got the digestive product KLPP for extra support.
Now that it is warm I have cut way back on the hay. Everyone is back on their usual feed and supplement program but I am still watching the manure to make sure my horses are not getting dehydrated now that it is so warm and everyone is exercising and sweating much more.
I am sure our northern friends think we Texans are wimps when it comes to cold weather but we are simply not prepared for it. The extreme shifts often catch us off guard and frozen gate latches, troughs and pipes complicate normal holistic horse health programs. Small adjustments in management can prevent adding a sick horse to the list of wild weather challenges. Madalyn