Planning for Winter on Kentucky Horse Farms

Planning for Winter on Kentucky Horse Farms

Calculate needs ahead of time and place orders with hay producers for the amount of hay you will need for the winter feeding period.


Planning for winter now can help Kentucky horse owners prevent cold-weather horse care inconveniences later. University of Kentucky (UK) experts offer several recommendations for winter preparation, such as anticipating hay purchases for the season. Calculate needs ahead of time and place orders with hay producers for the amount of hay you will need for the winter feeding period.

"The hay supply may get tight if people start buying," said Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, associate director for undergraduate education in equine science and management and extension horse specialist at the University of Kentucky. "It's more of a national marketplace now, and in other areas of the country hay could be in short supply. I'd have hay sourced soon."

Plan how and when the hay will be delivered and stored throughout the winter. Clean hay storage areas to ensure nothing will attract raccoons or other vermin. Remember to store hay in a building that has all-weather access.

"Test hay for quality as soon as it is delivered if a test is not provided when the hay is purchased," said Tom Keene, hay specialist in UK's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. "Buy hay by the ton if at all possible and require certified stamped weight."

Other recommendations include:

  • Build a high traffic area to reduce wasted feed, reduce muddy areas, and control erosion. “They make it easy to feed and easy to clean,” Coleman said. “Feeding hay on the ground can waste up to 50% of the hay offered, which can almost double expenditures. This also means looking into getting a suitable feeder to use this winter.” For more on high traffic pads, see UK Cooperative Extension Service publication “High Traffic Area Pads for Horses.” 
  • Check that all waterers, hydrants, and pipes are fully functioning. Insulate or use heat tape if necessary. Consider installing additional waterers, if the increased capacity is needed. “You want to be at capacity, not under or over, to efficiently move water through to prevent freezing,” Coleman said. “It’s not much fun to thaw out a frozen waterer.”
  • Assess your horses' nutritional needs and body condition scores (BCS).
    "Determine each horse's BCS, keeping in mind that scores of 5 to 6 are fine." Coleman said. "This could mean increasing, maintaining, or restricting feed, depending on the horse's BCS. Making changes to a horse's BCS is much easier in the fall than trying to feed to gain condition at a time when maintenance requirements are increased due to cold, wet, and windy conditions in January or February. This is particularly true for horses that are maintained outdoors."

Fall is an optimum time to establish many plants, shrubs, and trees. Rick Durham, extension professor and coordinator for the Kentucky Extension Master Gardener Program in UK's Department of Horticulture, advised the following:

  • If applying fertilizer to pastures in the fall to promote growth of cool season grasses, try to avoid fertilizing around trees and shrubs until after they have gone dormant (lost their leaves) and avoid fall fertilizing of perennial plants altogether. Fertilizing too early, especially with nitrogen, might trigger a late flush or growth that will predispose plants to cold weather injury.
  • Avoid mulching too deeply; a 2- to 3-inch depth is ideal. Also, pull mulch away from the base of trunks; do not pile mulch around trunks as this can lead to disease problems on the truck and rodent issues around the plants.
  • Diseased or broken branches and limbs can be trimmed at any time, though these issues might become more noticeable after trees and shrubs lose their leaves. Leave most of the routine pruning, however, until late winter/early spring of next year.

Coleman’s barn and equipment upkeep tips include:

  • Clean feed and tack rooms, stalls, and aisles thoroughly, using a broom and/or pressure washer to remove accumulated grime, cobwebs, and dust. Winter tends to be dry, so eliminate as much dust and dirt as possible before doors and windows are closed tight.
  • Pressure-wash exterior windows and the outside of barns. Touch up paint and sealants where necessary, and caulk around doorways and windows. Rake or blow leaves and debris away from building foundations.
  • Sharpen and tune up chainsaws and other equipment that might be needed during winter.

University of Kentucky Agricultural Communications Services provided this information.

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