Winter Barn Preparation Starts Before the Freeze

Horse owners need to make plans to protect the animals from a possible deadly combination of extreme cold and rain, said Louisiana State University AgCenter equine agent Howard J. Cormier, MS

"Weak adults and newborn colts can't survive that," Cormier said. "A normal winter haircoat is much more insulating than most horse blankets--but not if it gets wet."

If horses are accustomed to being outdoors, their haircoat will provide good protection as long as it is dry. Brush mud off to allow the hair to provide more of an insulating effect. Horses that are normally kept in stalls might benefit from an additional blanket layer.

Food and water

Feeding is especially important during cold periods. If pastures are frozen, there will be no forage to eat, but horses will have increased demands for energy to provide body heat. Owners should provide an adequate diet to maintain body heat during the cold spell.

"Feed and decent hay are critical," Cormier said. "Buy feed and hay now, in case stores close during periods of no electricity."

Water is a major consideration during freezing weather. Horses still need to drink, even in cold weather. Owners should make plans to save water in horse troughs, barrels, ponds, or any other large containers in case the well goes out or the water is shut off for several days.

"Don't forget that someone will have to crack the ice, if it freezes hard," Cormier said.

Pipes can freeze solid and split, so insulate exposed pipes, Cormier said.

"You can also put buckets over low faucets after they have been insulated. Drain the water, if that is practical. There must be a way to let the water out from a low valve and air in from a high valve. Just opening the valve after you turn the water off might not be enough," Cormier said.

Cormier said to run a water hose to a place lower than the faucet to siphon water out of the lines.

"Keeping water trickling won't work if the power goes out, and most times it is frowned upon by water districts," Cormier said. "Drain water hoses so they don't break when they are frozen."

In ryegrass pastures, low temperatures will usually cause the top of the grass to freeze. Cold weather before a hard freeze can harden off the ryegrass to give it some resistance to the cold, but it is doubtful that ryegrass will survive without damage at temperatures in the teens.

Take care of trailer campers

Horse trailer campers with water tanks should be serviced. Drain the hot water tank and lines, or keep the power on with propane or a generator to keep the water lines from freezing. A light bulb can help, too, as long as the power doesn't go out, Cormier said.

Most drain plugs on RV hot water heaters are easily accessible from the outside panel.

"Many are plastic, so don't over-tighten when you replace it," Cormier said. "Don't forget to open the shower faucet and sink to drain water out of the lines, too."

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