I want to answer a letter that I received from a reader regarding caring for horses in the winter. She wrote asking me why I don't write more articles about ranching, guns, and horses. But also wrote, "Even though you would be late doing so, an article on Winter horse care would be nice."
She then went on to tell me about her plan. All in all, she was asking my opinion of her Winter horse care plan. She also wanted to know if I can suggest other things to do for her horse?
She wrote to say her plan at the moment includes the following:
- Make sure my horse has shelter to get out of the weather.
- Give her a little additional hay during times of extreme cold.
- Keep her water clean and fresh
- Make sure she is in good condition.
So, as she said, even though I'm late doing so, an article on a Winter horse care plan would be nice. And with that, I first want to say that I think her short to-the-point to-do list for a Winter Plan is on the right track.
The fact is, from what I've learned about Winter horse care, it's a two-part proposition. First, we have what needs to be done to get ready for Winter. The second is what we have to do as routine maintenance during Winter.
Allow me to explain what I'm talking about. Starting in the Spring, I begin preparing for the next Winter. What that means is that I get motivated to remedy all of the problems that seemed to pop up during the last Winter. Let me say that again, I get motivated to get ready for next Winter. The reason that I'm repeating myself is that I've found that I start out with a bang but then fizzle out.
What really happens is that "Life 101" gets in the way and I postpone things. If you're a regular reader, then you know that I usually get more research and subsequently more of my writing accomplished when I'm not so bogged down with other aspects of my life. Such is life.
What do I do with my time some of you have asked? Well, I do a lot of research. Yes, especially researching old notes for articles that I want to write. I have this blog to write. I'm also finishing my second book which I'm trying to make bigger and better than the first. Along with that, I also have our local American Legion post to manage. I'm a member of a Marine Corps League detachment. I put in as many hours that I can as a Calaveras County Sheriff's volunteer. And yes, I really do try to make time for my family.
In fact, my wife and I go to lunch or dinner with my mom every week. After lunch, we take a ride and go sightseeing with no destination in mind -- or we return to her house and play cards. Frankly, I always accuse my mom of cheating at cards just to get her going. I know she doesn't, but that hasn't stopped me from pulling her leg. My friends, my wonderful mom will be 87 on November 6th. She is still going strong, but I've been around long enough to know that that can change in a blink of an eye. Because of that, I make sure that we get together as often as we can. That is if her schedule can fit me in.
Of course, besides all of that, I try to spend time with our horses and keep up with the chores that need to be done on our small piece of property. And yes indeed, folks with small acreage like mine will certainly agree with me when I say that it feels like chores seem to never end. And no, I can't imagine being so wealthy as to hire hands to maintain large properties.
That's why my Springtime plans fall apart and I usually find myself, as I did again this year, prepping for Winter during late Summer and Fall. That's also why I've been so busy cleaning and prepping for Winter up to a week or so ago.
Before I retired from my first job and traveled around the country working, I used to see horses out in the snow in places like Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota for example. I found out over the years that while some horses are better acclimated to cold temperatures and actually do better outdoors when the temps drop, that's not the horse that my wife and I own at all. While they do grow out their Winter coats faster than horses that are in lower elevations, our horses seem to get cold easily and seek out shelter pretty quick.
That's why over the last few months, I've cleaned stall mats, repaired waterers and feeders, tried to store more hay, I've gotten my turn-out area ready, and much more. I try not to wait until Winter to clean and replace stall mats, so I try to get that done early. As for cleaning feeders, water troughs, and my hay storage area, I hate waiting until I need to put a horse in my barn before I get busy fixing or cleaning something that I could have done weeks ago.
This year, I purposely made the time to fix two broken water troughs, re-do some pipes, and repair a feeder that needed it. And, I've even made sure to replace the extra floats that I used two years ago. Yes, those floats that I needed on the spare of the moment and used that were never replaced to keep on-hand for emergencies are now back on the shelf.
Since I live in California, most folks think I live near the ocean or a big city. Well, that's not the case at all. As you've heard me talk about before, where I live here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is what is commonly known as the California Gold Country. This is where the 1849 Gold Rush took place. And while some folks reading this might find it strange, we get snow here. Granted, it's not a large amount of snow like folks who live further up the mountain -- but we do get snow.
So, with that, I have to prepare water troughs and pipes for freezing temperatures. That means that besides fixing broken water troughs, I've also been able to wrap pipes so they don't freeze and break. And by the way, since clean and fresh water is always a priority for horse care, I do make sure that I'm ready for the colder weather. While some people think horses can lick the ice or eat snow, that's just not the case. And of course, my knowing that our horses can get colic if they don't get enough water, I've placed their water troughs in spots where they won't freeze.
As I said before, from what I've learned about Winter horse care, it's a two-part proposition. First, we have what needs to be done to get ready for Winter. The second is the maintenance during Winter.
If you're wondering if I have ever used electric waterers during Winter, I haven't needed to and still don't because their water troughs are located in areas where they can't freeze. And by the way, I've heard stories about horses that have gotten shocked from poorly ground electric de-icers. Frankly, I've never faced that problem. But, if you are in that situation, it's recommended that you test the water troughs out yourself so that your horse won't get shocked. I've been told that horses that are shocked will not use that waterer and refuse to take in water. And of course, that's not good.
Also, maintenance during Winter means we have to check our horse stalls, waterers, and horses more often. As for having horses confined to stalls and using waterers, it's important to check the waterers periodically and remove any old hay that's in those waterers. Old hay in a water tank will build up and can make your horse sick. So yes, it's very important to check it now and then. Believe it or not, it is said that horses need more water in the Winter in a barn than they do in a pasture during the Summer.
According to experts, "an adult horse that weighs a thousand pounds needs at least 10 to 12 gallons of water a day. If they get that, then that will help prevent dehydration and colic. During the Summer, pastures contain 60 to 80 percent moisture. This contributes to a horse's water intake requirement. In contrast to that, it's said that dried Winter feed such as hay and grain contains less than 15 percent moisture. So if our horses don’t drink enough water during cold weather, they may eat less and be more prone to impaction colic."
Again, according to experts, "even if we provide quality feed, horses will consume less if not drinking enough water. If horses eat less feed, they might not have enough energy to tolerate the cold. Also, water intake maintains a horse's fecal moisture level. If fecal material becomes too dry, intestinal blockage or impaction may occur. While a horse won't develop impaction in one day, they can over several days to several weeks of poor water intake." That's why our horses require more water in the Winter.
As for their turn-out areas, I am very happy to report that I remembered to fix areas where drainage needed to be addressed in their turn-out areas. Some of their turn-out areas ended up with a lot of standing water a few years ago. Last year, because we didn't get much rain, it wasn't that big a problem. But this year, I'm praying for more rain. And because I did address the drainage problem early this year, I think I'm ready.
Because we've seen some high winds that have brought down a lot of branches, it's something that has to be addressed around here. If there is one thing that we have here in Glencoe, we have a lot of trees. Yes, a number of different sorts of oak, pine, cedar, and more. Because of the high winds, a lot of the loose debris that I have to deal with around here has to do with loose tree branches and that sort of thing that tends to get scattered about.
This year, I re-did my main corral, re-built a turn-out pen, and replaced a lot of old fencing that wasn't doing the job. It was one of those things that simply needed fixing but I just never get around to it. Well, this year I did. I also put in a few new gates that I wanted to replace. I was also able to get some things done to practice what most call "good barn management."
What that means is that I got rid of what ended up being a lot of junk like old pallets, stacks of boards, old tin sheeting, and even some fencing wire that I haven't needed for the last 15 years or more. And because I used my breezeway for a few construction projects this year, I took a very large magnet and scanned the whole area where I was working in an effort to look for dropped nails, fence staples, screws, and so on. I was surprised by what I found. In reality, I hate to admit that there was more on the ground than I thought I had dropped.
As for shavings, I store bags of shavings to try to get a head start on Winter. But frankly, I never get enough for the whole Winter. So really, I just try to keep enough on hand to get me through a storm or two until I can get more. And here's a tip that has always worked for me, I never let my supply of shavings get so low that I don't have any on hand. I hate running out of shavings.
This brings me to doing regular hoof care. Being out in the mud and possibly standing in wet pens can bring on thrush. As most horse people already know, in some cases sadly too well, thrush is an infection of the central and lateral sulcus of the frog of the horse's foot. It is most often a bacterial or fungal infection. Thrush is a huge problem this time of year.
Good stall management is one of the best ways to prevent thrush. It is also a great way to treat thrush. Horses that are affected by thrush should be moved and kept in clean and dry stall conditions so that the frog can be cleaned and treated regularly until the infection is controlled and the tissues heal.
Good stall management, and regular foot care and inspection are what's needed as part of any Winter care plan. Horses in clean dry conditions will help keep the frog healthy. And from everything that I've experienced over the years, with early treatment and good stall management, complete recovery for cases of thrush is real good.
Checking your horses' feet, maintaining good hoof care, goes along with the maintenance during Winter. We have to assess our horse's condition on a regular basis. So besides making sure that your barn or stable has adequate ventilation, that the waterers work well, and things stay dry, we have to assess how our horses are doing. For me, I watch their weight a lot this time of year. If they are not getting enough water or are too cold, they will lose weight. Because of that, I make sure that their waterers are going well. That's also the reason that I feed our horses some grain and additional hay during extreme cold.
I give them a little more hay and grain to keep their weight on. A healthy layer of fat provides insulation against the cold. Cold temperatures will in general increase the number of calories horses need to maintain body weight and function. I don't feed corn to them to stay warm because I learned a long time ago that corn does not cause a horse to become warmer. Instead, a little grain with hay releases more heat for them to maintain their heat and body weight.
Experts say, "feeding high-quality hay and an additional one-quarter pound of grain per 100 pounds of body weight daily to non-working horses can provide adequate calories during cold weather. Working horses may require up to an additional one-half pound per 100 pounds of body weight per day, depending on workload, to maintain weight during cold weather."
So as you can see, even after all of the planning and preparing, it all comes down to having them inside instead of out -- and us keeping an eye on them. When that happens, the biggest thing that we can do for Winter is to check our horses every day. For me, that means rotating them to dry stalls. It also means that I spend a little more time with them to check their condition.
So now, how about what's good for me? For you, you ask? Yes, for me. You see while I know that it gets cold in my barn, I actually enjoy putting on layers of clothing, my big winter coat, and going out to my barn to check on our horses. Frankly, it's as good for me as it is for our horses.
I look forward to Winter because it's a time for me to take my coffee out to the barn and spend some time enjoying them while I'm checking on them. And while I check each one, one at a time, it's my time to bond a little more with them. It's also time for me to enjoy my little barn. You see I love the sound of rain hitting its tin roof because it reminds me of being a youngster on my grandfather's ranch. And as for my taking in the snow outside, it is something that I have come to enjoy.
So yes, for me, Winter is a time for me to enjoy my time alone with my horses. Ornery, stubborn, jealous, cantankerous as they can be at times, they are among the greatest souls that God has gifted to us. And yes indeed, I really enjoy their company.