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Winter Equine Nutrition

By: Dr. Julie Vargas, DVM

Equine Nutrition Gaps During the Winter

With the dreary days of winter upon us, decreased sunshine and plummeting temperatures take a notable effect on our horse’s nutrition. We will address some insight how to properly maintain winter equine nutrition during the most difficult months. 

By this time in the year, green grass is long gone and last year’s hay is aging.   Properly cured hay stores well in terms of the major calorie sources (fiber and carbohydrates) but it does suffer some important nutrient losses. The longer hay sits around, the greater the loss of some vitamins and minerals.  By understanding the deficiencies in older hay you can help maintain optimal nutrition for your horse even over the long winter months..

Excel Supplements Winter Equine Nutrition

“Vitamin C is important for a strong immune system and healthy skin, lung, and tendon/ligament tissues.”

Green grass is the horse’s largest source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.  There are moderate amounts of omegas and vitamin E in fresh hay but amounts decline rapidly as the hay ages.  Curing and storage reduce the natural fat content of hay to 50% or less of the value in fresh pasture, primarily by the loss of fragile omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements help replace these losses.  Specific omega requirements for horses have not been fully elucidated, but daily omega-3 supplementation is recommended around 2 to 4 ounces daily.

Freshly harvested hay is rich in a pigment called beta-carotene which is the major precursor of vitamin A.  As hay ages, levels of beta-carotene drop and the hay begins to lose its light green color. This is a reliable sign that the hay’s vitamin A value has dropped. Many tissues are affected by insufficient vitamin A such as the skin, eyes, coat, thyroid and ovaries.  Good levels of Vitamin A promote good vision, skin health, bone formation, immunity, fetal development, and gum health.  When hay is 6+ months old it is recommended to start supplementing with at least 20,000IU of vitamin A.
Both vitamin A and vitamin E are fat soluble vitamins and require adequate fat for absorption and transport. Fat is also required for the conversion of beta-carotene to active vitamin A.  This is another good reason for supplementing with healthy fats, such as found in ExcelEQ ProElite™.

Vitamin C is another important nutritional factor, rich in fresh pastures but very rapidly declines when hay is cut, cured, and stored. The horse is capable of making his own vitamin C, but this may not be enough for optimal levels especially as blood levels of vitamin C are known to drop sharply over the winter months. Vitamin C is important for a strong immune system and healthy skin, lung and tendon/ligament tissues.
When looking at the breakdown of the horticulture of the forages we feed, it is easy to see where our horses can lack nutritionally in the winter time.  

Horse Eating Grain from Bucket

Vitamin C is another important nutritional factor, rich in fresh pastures but very rapidly declines when hay is cut, cured, and stored. The horse is capable of making his own vitamin C, but this may not be enough for optimal levels especially as blood levels of vitamin C are known to drop sharply over the winter months. Vitamin C is important for a strong immune system and healthy skin, lung and tendon/ligament tissues.

When looking at the breakdown of the horticulture of the forages we feed, it is easy to see where our horses can lack nutritionally in the winter time.  What is most important to remember is that we don’t necessarily have to stack the horses with more supplements, we simply need to help them become more soluble to what they are receiving through grains and forage. Fortunately for us, Excel Supplements exclusive blend of Camelina oil helps us out in keeping our horses bioavailability working at it’s top capacity to ensure they receive all the nutrition they need in a natural setting!

Q&A
What is a good diet for a horse in the winter?

No matter if your horse is on a grain ration or lives on foraging alone, in the winter adequate forage is important. On average, each horse should be given 1.5-3% of his bodyweight in forage. This percentage can fluctuate up 15-20% the colder it becomes.

How much fat does a horse need in the winter?

Most horses sustain acceptable weight when an increase is made in their daily forage ration. In the case of harder keepers, a top oil dressing such as ExcelEQ™ or ExcelEQ ProElite™ can aid in increasing the fatty acids they are lacking.

What are the nutritional requirements for horses?’

Horses require 6 main categories of nutrients; such as, carbohydrates, water, minerals, fats, vitamins and protein.

What is the best protein to feed horses?

The best protein to feed your horse almost always comes from good quality grass hay or alfalfa mix. Most horses do not need to exceed a 10% maximum of protein in their daily ration; though, this can change based upon a specific horses needs and workload.

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