Coping with winter weight loss.

Winter brings short days, long nights and cold weather. Seeing your horse in daylight at the weekend once he's been clipped, you may see a degree of weight loss. This isn't surprising because in winter, horses need more energy to keep warm, than in the summer.

Horses that live out where shelter is poor can require a third more energy than those stabled. Naturally poor doers need to have their weight managed constantly to avoid weight loss.

Sudden weight loss is more serious and may be the sign of disease although trauma can cause a horse to lose weight quickly. As with humans, horses lose fat first when they lose weight. A kilo of fat contains as much energy as two scoops of a racehorse feed, so putting weight back on requires careful, but bold, feeding strategies, including a good balance of nutrients.

Calories come from fibre, starch and oil. Fibre should come from plenty of bulk and quality fibre sources. Oil can be used to top up calories, particularly in competition horses, which tend to run up light after travelling and shows. Starch from cereals is the most common way of adding calories.

Quality protein and a decent vitamin and mineral profile are also required for a horse to utilise its energy efficiently. Often, the reason horses lose weight at the beginning of winter is because they aren't being fed enough. In many cases, only being given a small amount of low-energy feed. Whatever the reason for the weight loss, you must feed your horse plenty of quality food.

Quality counts

Offer quality forage. Fibre is important to the horse which has lost weight. Feeding a high fibre diet will reduce the risk of metabolic disease causing the horse to fizz up.

Extra forage

Increase the total amount of forage and feed intake per day gradually up to 2.5% of bodyweight.

A little drop of the hard stuff

Give hard feeds little and often (no more than 2kg per feed). If feeding less than the recommended amount of compound feed, increase this to that level according to size and workload. If feeding the current hard feed at recommended rates, replace up to half of it with a conditioning feed. This should contain more energy, a higherquality protein and a higher vitamin and mineral content than low-energy feeds or those for working horses.

Fussy eaters

Soya and corn oil can be fed up to 300ml a day.

Healthy digestion

Probotics will help keep the digestive tract healthy and as effective as possible. They are useful in horses which worry weight off, those competing hard or recovering from colic or antibiotic treatment.

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