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Winter is coming – Feeding for winter ahead

There may not be the threat of white walkers, no Night King, but winter can still have some surprises. When it comes to Britain, winter is unpredictable, so long term planning may be difficult. The main concern is where and when the bad weather bites. Dropping temperatures, wind and rain or snow, singly or in combination can all impact on a horse’s body temperature. As 80% of energy intake may be utilised to simply maintain the body, bad weather can impact. To counteract a 10C drop in temperature a horse needs to eat an extra 1.5-2 MJ DE per day. Obviously, stabling, rugging and the provision of shelter are all situations to help with body temperature control, but extra feeding mat be necessary. As mentioned earlier, the unpredictability of the weather – winter can be very mild and spring very cold – makes planning ahead a little problematical, but a bit of preparation can help make for a smooth period.

The mainstay of all equine feeding, whatever the season, is fibre. Not only is it the main provider of energy, its fermentation in the hindgut generates heat that helps maintain core body temperature. By exploiting this characteristic, it is possible to optimise energy input and heat generation over periods to coincide with the weather. Introducing and removing high energy feeds is not the best answer, as this will disrupt the horse’s gut microbiome. However, altering the rate and depth of hindgut fermentation can achieve this by strategic use of super fibres.

Super fibres, such as Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet, not only supply highly fermentable fibre – and so add extra energy and heat – but also being based on beet pulp, have prebiotic characteristics and so improve the overall fermentability of all fibre in the gut. By adjusting the levels fed, energy and heat supply can be moderated to much the vagaries of a British winter.

Approaching winter means feeding as usual, but including super fibres into the diet, as their adjustment can help moderate body temperature to offset winter.