As the song goes ‘what a difference a day makes’ but in this instance it should be, what a difference a year makes!

This time last year, we were ankle deep in mud and there was an anticipated hay shortage/hay quality issue due to a very wet period when hay was being made.

This winter there is an anticipated hay shortage but this time due to drought like conditions resulting in reduced yields. The eating quality of hay should be much better this year and the nutritional quality may also be better.

Autumn is upon us and it is therefore that transition time of year again when we shift from summer in to winter feeding. In this unusual year, your feeding decisions may have to alter slightly, in order to preserve forage for as long as possible.

Main Changes

The changes come thick and fast at this time of year; the most noticeable changes are that day length shortens and horse owners up and down the country find themselves racing against the daylight. The next change that soon becomes obvious is that temperatures start to drop.

These changes have an effect on your horse’s environment. Grass growth will slow and its nutritional quality will be much reduced by the time winter comes. Your horse will also be growing in his winter coat at an accelerated rate which will herald the annual ‘to clip or not to clip’ question and if so, how much to take off?

Winter feeding decisions will depend as always, on your particular horse and whether it is a good doer or not, the level of work it is in and temperament etc.

The Good doer

As I have mentioned time and again, winter is most definitely the time to look at getting weight off the good doer.

If you have the luxury of winter grazing then try to save it for winter (not autumn) when the nutritional quality will be much reduced, allowing you to make the best use of it.

For very good doers the use of a muzzle should still be considered, even during winter. It can be very effective when horses are first moved on to winter grazing, whilst the grass is still of a decent height and so long as there is no snow on the ground.

This will help limit weight gain and preserve grass for as long as possible. Any hay fed should be be fed using a ‘slow feeder’ of some description. This will reduce hay intake and wastage which should be a priority this year, whilst helping to keep your horse slim line.

Don’t forget to provide a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement when on a restricted diet as it will provide all the vits and mins needed for general health and well-being.

Remember not to over rug (if at all) and allow your horse to burn off some energy keeping warm.

The Poor Doer

Whilst it would go against my usual advice for feeding a poor doer, it may also be worth utilising slow feeders for this type of horse.

It will extend the length of time your hay will last whilst still ensuring enough fibre for good digestive health. The down side will be that you will have to provide the extra calories via other means.

As per previous columns; replace some of the hay offering with a good quality, high energy chop. Products such as chopped grass or chopped alfalfa can be offered in a large tub trug (placed inside a tyre) as a partial hay replacer.

Consider an extra feed a day if more condition is required and utilise high oil and high fibre conditioning feeds (eg Harbro Conditioning Cubes or Gain Freedom Cubes) wherever possible, to maintain good gut health and behaviour!

In contrast to the good doer, make sure that your horse is warm enough so they don’t expend energy trying to keep warm. If you are going to clip then clip off the least that you can get away with, nothing keeps a horse warm, better than his own hair!

Other considerations

Using chops as a partial hay replacer is a good strategy.

For good doers, use straw-based, low or molasses-free varieties of chop and slow down eating speed by placing large rounded stones or even salt licks on top of the bucket to make it more difficult to bolt down.

If you anticipate that you are likely to run out of hay/fodder before the end of winter, then begin this strategy now as it is important that where possible your horse receives some kind of long fibre for digestive health and short chopped fibres are therefore used as a partial hay replacer.