Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Warm weather feeding

After the coldest spring in 50 years, the recent warmer weather has been a welcome change, but how might this change in temperature affect your horse’s diet? Here are a few tips for ‘hot weather feeding’.

Water is the most important, yet often the most overlooked nutrient in the horse’s diet. Daily intake varies between individuals but on average, is approximately 50ml/kg BW for ‘idle’ horses (25l per day for a 500kg horse). However increased heat, humidity and exercise results in increased demand, so ensure ample supply is maintained. If you are concerned that your horse is not drinking enough, buckets rather than automatic drinkers can help to monitor intake. Flavouring water with apple juice may help to encourage drinking and if possible, taking your own water to shows may be useful for those to reluctant to drink ‘strange’ water.

When horses sweat they lose electrolytes (mineral salts), the main ones being sodium, potassium and chloride. For most leisure horses and those in light work, free access to a salt lick, water and plenty of forage is more than sufficient for replacing these losses. For horses sweating heavily and on a regular basis, table salt and in harder work a combination of table salt and Lo-salt, is a cheap and effective replacement (ask a nutritionist for more advice on this). In addition, pre-prepared electrolyte solutions combining minerals salts and sugars can help to support hydration and glycogen recovery following exercise.

Hay soaking
Whilst studies have shown that soaking hay for 12-16 hours in tepid water is the most effective method for reducing sugars, soaking for long periods in hot weather is not recommended. This considered, reduce your soaking time to 3-6 hours and remember that soaking for any length of time cannot guarantee safety for laminitics – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.

It is easy to assume that short, sparse or drought damaged grass has little nutritional value but in truth, levels of non-structural carbohydrate (NSC=starch, sugars and fructan) may be higher than in longer, greener pasture. Stress caused by overgrazing, drought, poor management and lack of nutrients can result in higher levels of NSC, posing a potential increased risk for laminitics. Fructan (storage sugar) may be higher in the stem than the leaf, so avoid grazing laminitics on hay stubble.

Safe feed storage
This is important at any time of year, but soaring temperatures may increase the risk of mould and grain mite. Feed should be stored in cool (12 degrees Celsius or below), dry and preferably dark conditions. Un-opened feed should be raised off of the floor i.e. on a pallet to allow air to circulate, have all shrink wrapped removed to prevent sweating and be kept away from walls (allow a gap of 0.5m). Try to avoid leaving your feed in a hot car for long periods and if feeding small amounts, avoid buying in large volumes to help maintain freshness.

Summer will sadly soon be over so enjoy the hot weather while it lasts; but spare a moment to think about how this may affect your horse’s feeding regime.