Winter Care: Use Caution when Changing a Horse's Rations

Some horses might need more feed to replace energy loss brought about by harsher weather conditions as the temperature turns colder.

Equine owners must practice sound management in altering their animals' rations if problems with colic or laminitis are to be avoided, said Dave Freeman, PhD, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service equine specialist.

"Concentrate composition and amounts should be increased gradually over a period of several days, especially if the horses are already consuming large quantities of grain," Freeman said.

Many concentrates--grain mixes--will have significant levels of soluble carbohydrates, which are efficient providers of energy.

"However, eating too much of these compounds in one meal is a significant contributor to the frequency of colic and founder in horses," Freeman said.

One general guideline is to limit grain feedings to maximum single meal intakes of around 5 pounds per 1,000 pounds of body weight.

"Of course, some concentrates are less energy dense than others, so following recommended intake levels on feed bags is a good practice," Freeman said.

Gradually increasing portions of grain mixes over several days when conditions require horses to need significant increases in energy intake is an added precaution against colic, especially when horses are not accustomed to eating concentrates.

Freeman said horses can suffer from colic if ration changes occur too rapidly.

Since colic can result from many different causes, Freeman said owners who observe signs of colic in a horse should remove all feed, hay, and water, and then call their local veterinarian immediately.

"Knowing how to measure a horse's respiration rate, heart rate, and temperature and then relaying this information to your veterinarian will help in his initial diagnosis or treatment," Freeman said.

Additional information about colic and feed management is available from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Oklahoma residents can also call county offices and ask for Oklahoma State University Extension Fact Sheet #3973, "Feeding Management of the Equine," and #3921, "Understanding Colic in Horses."

The statewide Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service system is part of OSU's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

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