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[RC] News from MSU Vet. Med. part 2 - Judy Lessard

3.  Blankets and shelters will help decrease energy demands.  However, remember a blanket hides the body condition so it is important to place your hands under the blanket and remove it at least every week or so to assess body condition.
4:  Old horses with poor dentition (teeth) may require COMPLETE PELLETED FEEDS* that are easily broken down, as they may be unable to adequately chew fiber (hay). For the average horse that should weigh about 1000-pounds, at least one-third of a fifty-pound bag needs to be fed daily just to maintain the body weight, and more will be needed if severe energy demands are present.
5:  Water intake is also very important during the winter.  Many horses will suffer from impaction colics due to inadequate water intake.  Older horses may require the water to not only be frost free, but warmed due to older horses having sensitive teeth.
6:  Remember, during extremely cold weather, to provide extra (free choice) hay, as this will generate more energy and comfort than just increasing the grain (concentrate) portion of the diet.  Just the physical aspect of moving and eating will make the horse more comfortable.  The hay fermenting in the large intestinal tract will generate heat and finally, the horse will utilize the calories absorbed from the feed.
Body condition score- The body condition scoring (BCS) system is based on a 1 through 9 scale and is designed to assess a horse’s overall condition.  Horses with a BCS less than a 4 are at increased risk of hypothermia and starvation, especially when the weather conditions cause an increase in energy demands just to maintain weight.  If an individual is already thinner than desired (BCS < 4), they will not have adequate body mass (fat) to help with insulation from the cold or provide a supply of energy when the diet is lacking and demands are higher than expected.
To determine your horse’s BCS you must touch your horse, especially in the winter, as winter hair hides a horse’s true BCS, often until it is too late to successfully correct the weight loss.  Feel over the ribs, neck, shoulder  area, mid-spine, hips and tail head.  If your horse’s ribs over the widest part of the barrel are easily felt with little or no tissue between the skin and ribs, the BCS is below 4. This horse is suffering from malnutrition and is at a high risk of hypothermia when the temperature drops, particularly if the wind chill is high and little to no shelter is available.
For more information on body condition and feeding horses during the winter, please contact your veterinarian.  The website www.extension.org is also a very good site to visit for information on feeding, care and body condition scoring.
*A COMPLETE PELLETED FEED is a product that contains at least 15-percent crude fiber and can be fed as the sole source of nutrition for horses.  Horses that are routinely fed a complete pelleted feed are senior horses that are lacking teeth or have severe dental problems.  A complete pelleted feed can also be used as part of the diet when hay is in short supply (a hay extender) or fed to horses that have certain digestive disorders.
Dr. Judy Marteniuk,
Equine Medicine and Extension Veterinarian
Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Michigan State University
(517) 353-9710
Dr. Elizabeth Carr
Equine Medicine and Critcal Care Clinician
Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Michigan State University
For related equine health articles: "Purchasing Hay," "Is Your Forage Supply Adequate for Winter?" "Impaction Colic," "Equine Winter Starvation Syndrome," "Winter Energy Needs in Horses," and "Winter Dehydration in Horses," go to:
Judy Lessard
Editorial Assistant
Publications and Media Relations
College of Veterinary Medicine
Michigan State University
F-130 Veterinary Medical Center
East Lansing, MI 48824

Telephone: 517-355-0001
CVM website: http://cvm.msu.edu