Hay is an essential part of a horse's diet, providing them with the necessary fiber and nutrients they need to maintain good health. In the winter months, when grass is less abundant, hay becomes an even more important part of a horse's diet. In this blog post, we'll explore the reasons why hay should be available to horses during the winter and how it helps to keep them healthy and happy.
From providing horses with the essential fiber they need to maintain digestive health to serving as a source of energy and helping to keep them warm during the colder months, hay plays a vital role in a horse's diet.
In cold weather, the best thing to feed horses is fiber as much as they will eat. Good quality hay is the best answer. Horses digest the fiber in the Hindgut (Cecum and colons), where there is a huge population of bacteria which ferment the fiber. They give off short chain fatty acids as a by product of fermentation, the horse can absorb these through the gut walls and use them as an energy source.
Horses digest the fiber portion of their diet in the caecum and colons, called collectively the “hindgut”, where there is a huge population of bacteria which ferment the fiber and break it down. As they do so they give off as a waste product, short chain fatty acids (SCAs), acetic, butyric and propionic, they also generate a considerable amount of heat as they ferment the fiber. This benefits the horse twofold, the SCAs are absorbed by the gut walls and contribute to the horse’s energy needs, the heat helps to warm the horse.
Hay is the principle source of fiber in domestic animals, and provision should be made to obtain sufficient hay for them, hay is a far better feed in very cold temps than any kind of concentrate feed, as well being far safer. This means that access to plenty of hay is very important to generate both the energy source and the warmth.
Along with the hay, horses need a supply of liquid water, they can and sometimes do, eat snow, but they won’t eat as much as they need. Cold icy water hurts their stomachs, so when the temps drop the horses drink less, this puts them at risk of dehydration and colic. Providing liquid water is probably the hardest part of caring for horses in the cold temps.
The hay should be reasonably palatable and preferably fed free choice. Hay should ideally be fed in a dry area with some degree of wind protection. Putting the hay in a sheltered area, either near a purpose built shelter or under trees. Make sure there is enough room for all the horses to get access to it. Horses usually have good winter coats which have excellent insulating properties, but a stiff wind will reduce the effectiveness of the coat. Horses with thin or poor coats might need some help in the form of a wind proof and waterproof blanket so they can retain body heat. Blankets should be checked twice daily in case they slip, bind and entangle the animal.
In conclusion, hay is a critical component of a horse's diet, especially in the winter months when grass is scarce. Providing hay to horses can help maintain their digestive health, provide them with essential fiber and nutrients, and prevent weight loss. By keeping hay readily available to horses in the winter, horse owners can help ensure that their horses are healthy and happy.