How Much Food and Water do My Horses Need if I Evacuate?

How Much Food and Water do My Horses Need if I Evacuate?

If flooding is a concern, place all water, hay, and blocks in a location on your property to which your horse has access that's least likely to flood.

Photo: Marvin Nauman/FEMA News

No one wants to think of a natural disaster hitting their homes, but it's something everyone must consider to have the best chance of surviving these potentially deadly events. And while it might be easy to pack up your dog or cat should you need to evacuate, it's considerably harder when you've got horses in your care.

In many instances and for many reasons, owners choose to shelter in place with their animals or leave horses behind to weather disasters with food and water until the storms clear. But how much food and water will your horse need? Here are some tips on leaving food for horses should you need to evacuate without them.

Water
When a disaster strikes you have no way of knowing how long your horses will need to fend for themselves or how long you'll be without power, especially if you live in a rural area. So fill as many large troughs as you can, aiming to have at least two to three weeks worth of water available for horses.

A horse can live several days without food, but will not last long without water. Estimate that each horse will drink 30 to 40 liters per day, and bear in mind that if temperatures are high, they'll likely drink more. So, for each horse that would be 420 to 840 liters for two to three weeks. For reference, a typical water trough holds roughly 565 liters.

Depending on the disaster, water troughs could be blown over if strong winds are present (such as if a hurricane or tornado blows through). Therefore, choose large, heavy troughs that can sustain wind gusts; secure them in place as best you can; and fill several extra in case some blow over when horses drink the water level down.

Grain
Horses typically do not regulate their grain or supplement intake, and leaving them with free-choice grain could result in a medical emergency while you're gone. So, lock the grain in the feed room, and leave your horses with the foundation of their diet: forage.

Taking Your Horses with You?

If you choose to evacuate with your horses, equate the preparation process to packing for a long-distance show or trail ride. Bring with you all the things you would normally pack when traveling with horses: buckets for water and food, hay nets, electrolytes (especially if it is hot), etc. But overall, the same general food and water rules apply if you do evacuate your horses:

  • Pack as many gallons of water as you physically can from home to make sure your horses stay hydrated. Depending on the disaster, the water might not be available or safe for drinking purposes.
  • Pack several days worth (at least 1.5% body weight per day) of good-quality forage.
  • Provide your horses' normal grain, supplement rations, and medications, if needed.
  • Pack a salt and mineral block, if needed.
  • If possible, pack a portable fencing system, as there might not be a proper enclosure for your horse when you arrive at your destination. A portable electric fencing system with a solar-powered control (assuming you won’t have electricity) is easy to set up and store.

Kristen Janicki, MS, PAS

Forage
When choosing your forage, remember that your horses will have free-choice access to it while you're away; leaving high-quality alfalfa for your fat pony probably isn't the best idea. In most cases, a moderate-quality grass-type hay will be your best bet. Estimate your horse's minimum intake at 1.5% body weight per day in forage. For the average 1,100-pound horse, this amounts to at least 16.5 pounds of forage per day.

A few points to remember:

  • Under normal circumstances, horses waste an average of 10-20% of the hay they're fed. So take this into account when planning how much to leave with your horses.
  • Also, horses' hay consumption can increase in certain weather conditions, especially if temperatures are low. If you're evacuating in cold weather, leave extra hay for your horses.
  • Make sure to remove all baling twine from hay before you leave. If you're evacuating, the last thing you need is for your horse to mistakenly consume a piece of twine and have a medical emergency when you're away from home.
  • Depending on the type of disaster, hay could potentially blow or float away. Consider using round or large square bales in these scenarios as they're heavier and less likely to blow away than some other types of hay.

Salt and Mineral Blocks
Although not a hard and fast necessity like feed and water, a salt block and a mineral block (preferably one meant to balance the type of hay you are providing) can help ensure your horse is still getting the nutrients he needs while you're away.

Remember
If flooding is a concern, place all water, hay, and blocks in a location on your property to which your horse has access that's least likely to flood (in most cases this is an elevated location).

Regardless of what disaster you're expecting, try to spread out the supplies in different locations in case horses aren't able to access certain parts of their enclosures.

Take-Home Message
Leaving horses behind when you evacuate is never an easy choice. But planning ahead and knowing how much food and water to keep on hand is essential to giving your horses the best chance for survival.

About the Author

Kristen M. Janicki, MS, PAS

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen began her current position as a performance horse nutritionist for Mars Horsecare, US, Inc., and Buckeye Nutrition, in 2010. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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