A little forethought now will make your winter so much more pleasant. Think back to last Winter what worked, what didn’t and are there things you could change now to make life easier in the dark days of January? Here are 10 things I came up with but I am sure there are others I’ve forgotten so be sure to add to my list in the comments below.
- If you are going to use blankets, check that they still fit your horse. Growing horses or those who have put on more muscle since last winter may have out grown their blankets. Additionally, make sure they are in good repair and consider sending to be cleaned if necessary. To be effective blankets must have good “loft” in their filling otherwise they can’t do their job. They are supposed to trap air in their fibers which acts as insulation. If the blankets are dirty they will not be able to trap as much air. Wearing a blanket flattens the horse’s hair coat. Without a blanket the horse’s hair stands up and traps a layer of air next to the skin that acts as natural insulation. If the hair is flattened this natural insulation system does not work as well so it is imperative that the blankets you use have enough insulation. One trick I’ve always found useful is to buy a cotton sheet and I put that under the heavier blankets. This helps to keep the inside of the heavier blanket clean. Several times during the winter I wash the cotton sheet. If you need to get a new blanket, remember that to measure a horse for a blanket you measure from the center of the chest around to the point of buttock not to the center of the tail. If you measure to the center of the tail the blanket will get defecated on and it may not sit correctly over the horses rump as the darts in the material may not be in the correct place.
- If your horse has not had its teeth looked at in the past year, make an appointment with your vet or equine dentist. Winter can be a hard time to keep weight on some horses especially old horses so don’t wait until your horse is showing signs of losing weight to find out dental work needs doing.
- Make sure your horse is up-to-date with vaccinations particularly against respiratory diseases, as horses maintained in stalls where air flow is reduced, and of poor quality (closed doors during bad weather etc) may be at a greater risk of airborne diseases.
- Buy enough good quality clean hay to last your horse until next year’s cuttings. This will reduce changes in diet over the season and guarantee your horse a more stable source of nutrients both of which can reduce the chances of colic. In addition not buying hay in the middle of winter when it’s at a premium will save you money!
- Prepare a place where your hay will be stored through the winter where it will not be spoiled by precipitation. Hay should be stored off the ground to allow air circulation stacking on wooden pallets or a thick layer of old hay works well. If you do not have a hay barn available and will be storing under tarps make sure to allow air circulation and that the hay is dry when stored otherwise mould may develop. Having a slight pitch (rather than the tarp being flat) over the top of the hay stack will reduce the chances of water pooling on the tarp.
- If you live in a climate where water troughs will freeze over, decide now what preventative measures you will take and make necessary purchases. Where frost is light this could be as simple as adding a soccer ball to the trough. As its bobs about it will prevent the water from freezing. Clever horses will also learn to push the ball down making a hole in the ice. If using water buckets standing them on rubber mats or putting straw/shavings under them so they are not directly on concrete will give some insulation. In colder climates water/trough heaters may be necessary. If water is too cold horses may reduce their water intake increasing their risk of impaction colic.
- Consider whether feeding soaked hay or grain/concentrates as a mash might be a good idea if there is concern over adequate water intake.
- Lag unprotected pipes with insulation to reduce the chances of pipes freezing and bursting during cold spells. You can insulate copper taps from light frost by getting a plastic grocery store bag filling it full with hay, place the faucet inside the bag so it is surrounded by the hay and tie the handles of the bag around the pipe. Use twine if necessary.
- Decide now how you will keep track of the weather forecast over the winter. Knowing the forecast ahead of time makes blanketing / feeding and other management decisions much easier. The same is true year round. Whether its heat waves or ice storms, knowing the weather forecast ahead of time is key to making good decisions.
- Make plans for mud. Many areas that are fine at other times of the year become mud pits in winter. If you are feeding hay outside decide how you will keep hay out of the mud reducing waste and spoilage. Know that mud will result around the feeders, water troughs, in uncovered corals and gateways. There are several products on the market for example Muck Buster and Cedar Rest that help reduce mud and they are particularly effective if used before too much mud develops. Ask about such products at your local feed or ranch supply store and stock up before the seasonal rush as some of these products can get back ordered.
Image credit: designpics / 123RF Stock Photo
10 Things To Do Now To Prepare For Winter (in no particular order) by Dr. Clair Thunes and Summit Equine Nutrition LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.