Forage First: Winter Warmth, Health & Management
Forage, blanketing and turnout. Three extremely hot topics when it comes to the management of our horses throughout the winter months. Each deserve their own articles and discussion, however, today this post will be focusing on the importance of forage.
There are two things that are not debatable when it comes to maintaining healthy horses in the winter months: forage and water. Without one or the other, a horse is destined to end up shivering the weight right off their frame and/or subjected to the potential of extreme dehydration and colic. Now of course a horse without forage can result in an emaciated horse in any weather just as a horse without water may perish due to dehydration. However, what is important about recognizing the blunt, black and white realities of these facts is that the stakes are raised in the winter months, drastically.
Forage is defined as: 'bulk food such as grass or hay for horses and cattle; fodder'. You may feed Timothy, Grass, Orchard, Alfalfa, a mix of those or even something different such as Coast hay. Often our geographic locations dictate what sort of dry forage is available to us to provide for our horses. However, is your hay doing what it needs to in the winter months?
One of the greatest purposes of forage in the winter months is warmth! As horses ingests hay and it enters their digestive system it serves as fuel. Microbes in the digestive tract get to work breaking down the forage therefore increasing activity in the GI tract which increases the horse's body temperature/warmth. Couple this with the fact that horses will spend approximately 17 hours a day grazing, even in the warmest of months, and consume on average 20-25 pounds of forage (lbs) per day.
For us 'East Coasters' that could be a half bale per day, every day. And our horses would consume that over the course of the entire day, not just at a morning and evening feeding! So how do we meet our horse's needs when our paddocks, pastures and stalls may not be ideal for catering to a horse that needs to graze 17 hours per day and consume approximately 20-25lbs of hay per day?
Here are a few situations you may find describe your own situation and how we manage our own horses in these exact same conditions!
My horse is turned out, but there is NO pasture for them to graze!
Feeding Small Square Bales: Perhaps now your turning your horses out and tossing a few flakes or a portion of a square bale to them on the ground each morning and
evening. They pick through what they like, paw at each flake dispersing it in a 20 yard diameter circle, lay down in it, poop and pee in much of it and when you come back out to feed them again you feel quite defeated as it appears 75% of the hay you intended for them to eat has now remained uneaten. Yeah, we get it and have been there! With our horses that receive flakes from square bales as their forage while turned out we simply hang their hay in a hay chix net on the fence line! Yep that easy, saves so much time, nearly eliminates the entire waste and in turn rids us of the defeated feeling from watching the funds we've poured into their forage 'go to waste' on the ground.
Feeding Round Bales:
Round bales offer a great way to keep hay in front of our horses, but no doubt result in a bunch of waste! So you've already got to get off the tractor, cut the strings or net wrap off them so go ahead and toss on a round bale hay chix net (yes
they do exist!) and save yourself a few days of having to go put another round bale out and so much hay by the end of the season! These nets keep horses grazing off their round bales throughout the day rather than gorging themselves by the mouth full as well as keeps them from wasting much of the good, edible hay.
My horse gobbles up their hay so quick when they are in their stall!
Oh boy do we understand! While we are true advocates for MAXIMUM turnout, we understand that horses spend time in stalls for all sorts of reasons. So often stalled horses consume their hay quickly, grow bored in their stalls and have issue with ulcers and other vices. Allowing your horse to graze in their stall enables to consume their forage in a natural manner, ensures their hay will last throughout the day/night and decreases the time they spend with nothing to do. We use and encourage folks to offer their horses forage in a half bale hay chix hay net! These nets allow us to put the necessary 10-12lbs of hay per feeding in each net which lasts them throughout the day/night and work great in their stalls and on the fence line of their paddocks.
Choosing the Hay Net right for you horse:
We start all of our horses out with the Original 1 3/4in nets. In the beginning they receive hay both 'free' (not in the net) and in the hay net until they have transitioned to the net and are eating proficiently out of it. Then their entire amount of forage is provided out of their hay nets. For those that are super proficient and resemble a young child eating spaghetti at a rapid rate, we may move them to the Slow Feeder 1 1/4inch net. All nets are hung low and against the flat front wall of their stall. This enables them to square up, eating in balance rather than out of a corner where they may constantly be standing unbalanced and grazing at an unnatural angle so they can keep an eye on their surroundings at all time since the corner limits their vision. Take necessary precautions for horses with shoes on.
Still in search of more information- well you're in luck! The Netsperts are #1 Resource in the World for Hay Chix Hay Net information!
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Colton has used Hay Chix Nets for years and will swear by the positive influence they have on the management of his personal and client horses! The opportunity to be selected as a Hay Chix Patch Program team this year has been a true honor to be affiliated with a 100% American Made, hard working team that is truly making a HUGE difference in lives of horses and owners alike! Thank you to Hay Chix for continually saving us time, money and hay as well as keeping our horses happy and healthy!