Can your horse farm handle a winter storm?
Feb. 27, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Look just what happened in the Northeast. Just imagine if any part of that winter storm was about 300-400 miles south! Are you ready? Is your horse ready? Is your farm ready? Although we live in an area with mostly sunny days, there are times when we have temperatures below freezing as well as an occasional snowstorm.   

About the worst thing for a horse during the winter months is ice; most importantly, the ice that covers the watering trough or water bucket. Water for the horse during cold weather is too often overlooked. The water may freeze, making it inaccessible to the horse. Mature horses need about 10 gallons of water a day. To keep the horse healthy during freezing weather, owners should make sure an ample supply of fresh water is always available. Excessively cold water will decrease the horses’ consumption of water.

The horse has two natural defenses against cold, a long hair coat and a layer of fat beneath the skin. Both provide an excellent means of insulation against the cold.   

Most nutritional needs of the horse do not change during the winter season. Vitamin, mineral and protein requirements will still depend upon the horse’s age and physiological status and not on the time of year. The horse should be fed according to body condition.

Thin horses should be fed some supplemental grain in addition to good quality hay to assure enough energy to produce warmth, while a fat horse will require little or no increase from their fall diet. Most mature horses that are idle and in good flesh can survive the winter quite well on good quality hay and ample clean water.   

Overfeeding can cause too much weight gain during the winter, and lead to laminitis and other health problems in the spring.

While horses need shelter from cold winds, rain and snow, it is not necessary to keep them in a closed barn throughout the winter. Horses kept outdoors in the winter with access to a run-in shed, which opens away from the normal wind patterns, will generally have fewer respiratory disease problems than horses kept in poorly ventilated, heated barns.   

One important aspect of care that often is neglected is hoof care. Even though you are not regularly riding the horse, the hooves still grow during the winter months. In addition, the horse is traveling on uneven, frozen ground that can crack and break feet. Have the shoes removed and the hooves trimmed before turning the horse out for winter, and have the feet trimmed on a regular basis. This ensures that when spring arrives, the horse will have sound hooves that will be capable of holding a shoe.

The important thing is, do not just turn horses out and forget about them. Every day at every feeding, your horse should receive at least a visual examination.   

Tyrone Fisher is County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Harnett County.