Feeding extra grain for body heat in the
winter is not a good choice. Grain carries a greater risk of inducing a colic and/or laminitis and are the last things
you want to deal with in the winter. It takes very little effort to be chewed and digested and many horses don't need
the calories. An obese horse can still be chilled, inspite of the extra padding. Feeding your horse excess anything to make
him fat does not do him any favors. Most horses in good body condition going into winter will do fine on a diet of hay,
if enough is supplied. The exceptions being horses that can't chew hay from tooth loss, etc.
Most horses should be fed a MINIMUM of 1.5% to 2% of their body
weight in hay. However, type of hay is important. Hays that contain cool season grasses such as Brome or Fescue will be higher
in calories (sugar) and may be too fattening for some and carry too high of a risk of laminitis. Grass hays
such as Bermuda and mixed native grasses are usually higher in fiber with fewer sugars. Also, the richer hays tend to
be a little denser, so a "flake" of Bermuda hay is much lighter than a "flake" of Brome. The lighter
the hay, the more fiber in many cases, so be sure to weigh hay to get an accurate portion to your horse. This is another reason
to feed low octane grass hays, as the bulky fiber will last longer instead of the rich hay that is denser is calories. You
can dilute your hay with straw. Watch that the straw doesn't have grain heads still attatched.
What if my
horse can't chew hay or the supplier ran out?
There are alternatives for hay. Beet pulp, commonly added to Senior Feeds to provide the roughage portion can be used. Alfalfa
is appropriate for MOST horses when used as a supplemental source of fiber. Add a pound or two a day to the usual fiber portion.
It may not be appropriate for already obese horses, due to the energy content. However, legumes such as Alfalfa and
Clovers are lower in NSCs and higher in protein and energy, and should be considered before adding grain to the diet to add
calories, when needed, just be sure to balance the calcium ratio in alfalfa (supplemental phosphorus may be needed if your
other roughage sources don't complement the imbalance). Straw can be used as a filler, but never as a sole roughage. It's
lacking in minerals, but does provide a lot of "chew time" and fiber. Useful for diluting your richer hays that
would provide the bulk of the nutrition, and for keeping obese horses full to minimize blood sugar spikes or long periods
of starvation to avoid overfeeding.
Basically, when the temperature drops, adding an extra few pounds
of hay is going to go farther to keep your horse warm and healthy all winter long than adding grain. I suggest adjusting the
amounts as needed. There is always the option to allow your horse to have "free choice" access to hay via round
bales. Most horses learn when to quit after the hay is available for a while. They do tend to really consume the first bale
quickly, then slow down to normal rates thereafter. They will eat more during cold snaps, so be sure to keep an eye on the
hay level if you choose this method. Also, try to change the location of where you keep your round bales, or they quickly
become thrush heaven with the horses trampling in the mix of fallen hay, mud and manure. There are hay nets you can put over
a round bale to slow consumption and minimize the mess and waste.