Every winter brings its own challenges. After facing freezing pipes and hydrants, fighting with barn doors that are frozen to the ground, and attempting to make repairs to machinery, fencing, etc., in sub-zero temperatures, most horse owners are ready for spring by this time of year. Unfortunately, we still have a few months to go. This is also the time of year when customers ask me how they can best help their horses maintain weight.
While there are many ways and products to promote weight gain, my first thought is about preventing weight loss. For starters, keep your horses warm. Invest in a heavy weight stable or turnout blanket for your horse. During the winter months, horses burn many more calories trying to regulate their temperature. By blanketing your horse, you will cut down on your horse’s energy requirements.
Secondly, increase the amount of hay you are feeding. Horses should receive 1.5% – 2% of their body weight in forage every day. For a 1000 lb. horse, that would mean 15-20 lbs. of forage per day. During the winter months this requirement can increase by as much as thirty percent! Increasing hay is so important for horses because, not only does hay provide increased calories for the horse to use, but the microbial fermentation process (how horses digest hay) releases heat as a by-product. Your horse receives a double benefit from hay – increased calories, and increased heat production just by eating it.
For those of us who have their horses on their own property, increasing hay is relatively easy. However, if you are boarding your horse, sometimes it can be difficult to convince barn owners to increase hay rations. Luckily, there are several products that can be used to increase your horse’s forage intake. Here at Big Dee’s we carry a line of forage products from Stampede, which include alfalfa cubes, timothy-alfalfa cubes, alfalfa pellets, and timothy pellets. We also carry Kalmbach’s Forage Extender Pellets. Another new, exciting product is Basic Equine Health’s Peak Performance Pellet, which is basically a “grain-less grain”. It is a feed, but is completely alfalfa based, with no grain in it. Additionally, it contains the proprietary Gut Health blend, an electrolyte, and a mixture of camelina and coconut oil, resulting in a high fat content. All of these options are excellent ways to help your horse maintain weight this winter.
Outside of increasing forage content, you can also increase your horse’s fat intake. Fat is an excellent source of energy for horses, and, unlike increasing starches, does not result in a “hot” horse. There are several different options to choose from when looking to increase fat intake. First, do you want a liquid or a solid? There are many oils on the market today that are high in fat to aid not only in weight gain, but also with skin and coat issues. However, feeding oils this time of year can prove to be difficult if your barn is as cold as mine is. Should you choose an oil as a fat source, I am available most days at Big Dee’s and will be happy to discuss the different options we have with you. Should you determine that a solid is a better fit, you still have many options. Products such as Cool Calories by Manna Pro and Ultimate Finish 100 by Buckeye Nutrition are both 100% fat, or as close as you can get to it. Other options include Weight Builder, Gain Weight, and Ultimate Finish 40. All of these products contain 40% fat, and 14% protein. They are designed to aid in weight gain, and a healthy, glossy coat.
Another option is an extruded pellet. The advantage of extrusion, is that the pellet is highly digestible, and the nutrients are more bio-available to your horse. Most feed companies carry some type of extruded fat, and while there are slight differences between them, they all are around 25% or 26% fat, 14% protein, and are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. Feeding one of these products should result, not only in weight gain, but in a beautiful, shiny coat for your horse. If you are looking for an excuse to try one of these products, check out Buckeye Nutrition’s Ultimate Finish 25 this month, as we well be running some fantastic specials on this product.
Please feel free to come find me at Big Dee’s to discuss any feeding or weight issues you may have with your horse. There could also be other underlying factors in play if your horse is experiencing severe weight loss, and it is always wise to consult with your veterinarian if that is the case.
This article was written by Grant Ralston one of Big Dee’s Showroom Managers