With the imminent winter weather upon us, the following tips are friendly reminders to help ensure the health and welfare of your horses:
- Water is the most essential nutrient for horses. A safe and adequate water supply should be provided free choice 24/7. Horses require at least 7 to 10 gallons of water per day to avoid adverse health effects such as dehydration and colic. Prevent access to frozen ponds as horses may fall through ice seeking water. Streams should not be counted on as a sole water source. If using tank heaters or de-icers, ensure they are functioning properly. Make sure you have a back up plan if there is a loss of electricity or pipes freeze. Wells cannot pump water, electric de-icers will not work, and some automatic water troughs will not work without power.
- Hay and feed are critical to meet nutrient and energy requirements and a supply of at least two weeks should be on hand and stored properly to avoid rodents and moisture damage. Hay is important to provide fiber necessary for a healthy digestive system and helps keep horses warm through hindgut fermentation. Hay should be provided free choice in most circumstances. Hay should be fed under cover to prevent moisture damage and molding. Maintain a regular feeding schedule and do not change feeds abruptly, as this can disrupt digestion and cause colic.
- Power and electricity loss should be planned for. It is ideal to have a back up generator available to provide electricity. Be aware of carbon monoxide toxicity from running generators and propane heaters. Extra fuel should be on hand to power generators and heaters. All people on farm should know how to turn off water, electricity and other utilities in case of bursts pipes, power outages and fire hazards. Car chargers should be available to charge cell phones. Cell phones may not work in severe storms so prepare for communication loss.
- Fencing may be damaged from downed trees and wind. Materials and supplies to repair fences and temporary fence materials should be on hand to contain horses.
- Facilities should be prepared by removing dangerous tree branches or debris that could potentially injure humans, animals or buildings prior to winter weather.
- Shelter should be provided to protect horses from wind and precipitation. If horses are kept in stalls, a plan should be in place to clear snow and debris for adequate exercise for stabled horses. Plan to have enough bedding for at least a few weeks. Run in sheds should provide enough room to safely house the number of horses in a paddock or field. If the shelter is natural (trees, woods, etc) make sure there are no safety concerns such as dead limbs that might fall.
- Turnout blankets are usually not necessary for horses unless they are clipped or do not have adequate shelter. If turnout blankets are used, they should fit properly and horses should be checked daily to make sure they are not rubbing or wet underneath. Only use waterproof turnout blankets.
- Veterinary supplies should be on hand for emergencies and routine care. Discuss emergency care with your veterinarian should they not be able to access the farm due to impassable road conditions.