While it has been unseasonably warm in the Northeast this year, we all know that January and February often usher in biting cold and winter snow. To that end, it’s always a good idea to review barn plans for cold weather management.
While the best time to prepare for cold weather is the fall, there are things barn owners can do now to help horses. One of the biggest concerns horses face is acute cold where the temperature drops suddenly. According to Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, an extension equine specialist with the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, acute cold can be far worse for horses than chronic cold because a sudden drop in temperature often means horses are not used to the cold and horse owners might not have prepared adequately to handle the shift. In chronic cold weather situations, horses are more likely to be acclimated so the shock to their systems is less problematic.
No matter what, horses need shelter, adequate feed, dry bedding space, and access to water. Coleman also notes that horses use digestion to generate heat and horses need to eat around 2 percent of their body weight in feed in order to maintain weight throughout the winter months. Extra hay is critical at this time of year not only for keeping horses warmer through digestion but also because field forage is at its lowest.
If you blanket your horses, make sure the blankets are waterproof as wet horses will not retain their body heat as well. In addition, if you have open water sources in your pastures, it’s best to keep your horses out of those until warm weather is guaranteed to avoid a horse falling into an ice-filled water source and needing rescue.