Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Horses -- Tips to Prepare For Winter

Dear Friends,

A long time reader has written to ask if everything is OK with me? She asks because I haven't been writing as much as I had been, and she thought that I must be ill. While that struck me as funny at first, I took a look at how many posts that I put out last month versus a few months ago, and found that she's right in that I haven't put out as many posts as I have in past months.

While I assure all of you that I'm not ill, it simply has everything to do with being busy in one way or another. Fact is that I haven't been posting as many posts as I would like to for a few reasons. First, as most of you already know, I volunteer a great deal at our local American Legion Post here is Glencoe. Second, I've been doing more and more research these days. I find myself doing research to update the information that I've collected just so I can give you folks accurate information. And lastly, I've been working to get my place ready for winter, specially my barn for my horses.

As most of us can tell, ready or not, fall is leaving and winter is almost here. So knowing this, I figure that you may want to know how I prepare for the cold weather ahead. 

While my "barn" is a little more than a semi-enclosed stables, there is a small list of things that I do to prepare for winter. Besides replacing boards that should be replaced from horses kicking them during their confinement last winter, this is what I do before everything is frozen and we're possible hit with snow. I have found that my doing these things helps me get through the worse when winter hits.


First, it's all about preparing my water troughs for winter. While some folks use heated water sources during the winter, I don't. Instead, I position their water troughs in their stalls to keep them warm. Of course, as we all know sometimes "Plan A" doesn't work out. Since that's the case, I do have trough heaters on hand just in case a freeze gets so bad that my automatic watering system does freeze up.

I test my trough heaters before temperatures drop just to make sure any of my heaters are not working and needs replacing. It's not that hard a task and only takes a few minutes to find out if they're good or not. Of course, since there is the possibility that they make work when you checked them and not consistently in your water trough when you put them into use, it is important to monitor the water to make sure they are working as they should be.

Also just in case I do need my trough heaters, I make sure my power cords are good to go in good working condition. If an extension cord needs replacing, my recommendation is do it now when it's not freezing out. And please, take it from me when I say put them in a place where they can be easy to grab up if they're needed. For me, there's nothing so frustrating as needing an extension cord but I can't remember where I put them.

As for my automatic watering system, I always make a check of my automatic watering system by specifically checking their floats and rubber washer seals. Just as with my standby trough heaters, all ahead of time before things start to freeze. Besides my floats and such, I make sure my water pipes are wrapped. While I don't have the problem of having water hoses above ground to my barn, I used to make sure my hoses were in good condition before using them. I used to also allow a trickle of water to constantly flow though them in an effort to stop them from freezing. Since I still worry about pipes freezing, I still do that from a faucet outside of my barn.


Next, let's talk about using horse blankets. A very long time ago, I learned the hard way that horses usually have adequate winter coats and really don’t need to be blanketed. Some owners make the mistake of thinking that a horse needs a blanket in the same way that they need a coat or jacket in the winter.

I've learned that some horses need blankets in some situations. Most likely the horses that need to be blanketed are those who have been recently clipped, or those who have had problems maintaining their weight because of their age or health problems. Of course some horse don't have the winter coat that others do and need to blanketed. So as with anything else, common sense dictates when to blanket your horse. 

If you do blanket your horse, take a look at your horse blankets now. Check for mud, mold, insects, where mice may have made a home when the blankets were stored. Also check the blankets straps to make sure they work, as well as rips and tears and holes. You may need to repair or replace your blankets. Remember, mud alone may rub your horse raw if it's not cleaned before use. And just as with your power cords and trough heaters, put them in a place where you'll have easy access to them. For me, I put mine in my tack room so they’ll be ready to go if need be.

Hay & Grain 

Now let's talk about hay. Fortunately I live just above the snowline here in California. So, all in all, I can get more hay fairly easily. But even though that's the case, that doesn't mean that I want to fight mud and/or a couple of feet of snow around my barn to bring in hay every month. That's why I believe in stocking up on hay. The key of course is to make sure you can keep it dry to prevent mold.

I'm a big believer in storing as much hay as I can where I can. I'm also a believer in storing more hay than I think I'll need. I find that having a lot of hay on hand gives me a sort of peace of mind. I like knowing that the weather can get as nasty as it wants and wouldn't have to make a hay run. And having more hay than I need is a benefit in another way, as I know that I'll able to feed my horses a little extra hay on those really cold days when they need it.

Stockpiling grains is no different than stockpiling hay. I believe it's smart to have extra in case a winter storm makes trips to the feed store a pain. As with hay, how much extra do you need?

I read where a good rule of thumb is to buy about 10 percent more than you think you'll need. While 10% may be the rule, I go higher than that. Besides, I also look at cost. I know that hay and grain are lowest in the summer months. So I save some money during the winter if I can stockpile as much as I can before winter prices go up.

Air Flow

While this really doesn't apply to barns, or stables, such as mine where it is very open in front, airflow in a barn during the winter is vital to the health of your horses. If there's too little ventilation, then airborne dust can accumulate quickly to unhealthy levels. For me, I've built solid wind-blocks and enclosures to shield my horses from bone-chilling winds. All while still giving my horses the ability to walk out of their enclosed stalls and into covered stall areas. Of course in barns that are totally enclosed, especially those in harsh winter environments, it is important to make your stable properly ventilated.

Winter weather can be tough on horse and horse owners. A little bit of preparation can be the key to your being able to have it easier during this time of year. Right now, I've been busy simply because I'm preparing so that I don't have to struggle with what comes up unexpectedly when the weather gets worse. Besides, my knowing that my property is ready for my horses is a comfort.

Tom Correa

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