Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Watering Your Horses in Winter

Horse Drinking Out of Ritchie Fountain Waterer With the Minnesota cold weather here to stay for the next few months are your horses getting enough water to drink? Although they don’t drink quite as much in winter as they do in summer, water is still a very important part of their diet in winter. With hay as their main staple, versus summer grass, horses need plenty of water to offset their dry forage. There seems to be a strong correlation between decreased water comsumption and compactions leading to colic. This is another reason to be sure your horses have an adequate water supply, even with snow on the ground.

You cannot expect your horses to eat snow to get the moisture they need. They would have to eat 6 times as much snow to get an equal amount of water. In the meantime, they are using calories to melt that snow which pulls away from their body warmth, which is counterproductive.

Horses may not even drink as much if the water is very cold. Studies have shown that they will drink 40% more water when it is warmed to at least 45 degrees (Fahrenheit). A 1,000-lb. horse needs about 3½ gallons of water a day at a minimum, with about 5 gallons on an average. If they are on free choice hay - as ours are with the round bales - they’ll probably drink a lot more than that.

The less water your horse drinks, the less he’ll eat, resulting in an inability to keep warm and to keep his weight up. The less water intake he’s getting, the more concentrated the urine will be, getting darker in color. Instead of an almost clear stream, the urine will look very dark orange or reddish, leaving areas in the snow that almost look bloody! This is a prime indicator that you have a dehydrated horse.

We have a Ritchie Fountain - it's an automatic waterer with a heater in it to keep the water in the bowls warm - which we've had for 10-12 years. There’s only about a gallon of water in the bowls at a time, so it doesn’t take much electricity to keep it to a temperature that the horses prefer. However, this is an old model, and we've found out it's rusting. It seems they've changed the model, but regardless our next waterer (which we have yet to install because of the weather!) is a Nelson Waterer. This waterer is stainless steel, therefore won't rust.
Before installing our waterer, we had a stock tank for many years that worked well also. We had a box built around the tank with insulation stuffed down the sides where the horses couldn’t get at it. We then covered one side and hung the tank heater in that side.

It is very important to check your watering system on a daily basis, especially in winter. First, and obviously, to make sure that it's still working and the horses are getting enough. But you also need to make sure that there aren’t any shorts in the electrical system - they create an electric shock in the water.

So, to recap: especially in chilly Minnesota winters, be sure your horses are getting enough to drink; check for orangey-reddish stains in the snow as a telltale sign your horse is dehydrated; get a good insulated or heated watering system and remember to check it daily.

1 comment:

ell said...

There is a protein in equine urine that oxydizes in the cold (snow)and turns the urine shades of orange, pink, redish brown even though the urine was light yellow when it left the horse. I just researched this AFTER installing de-icers in the stock tanks! I thought it must mean dehydration too. What a relief--cause the de-icers had no effect on the orange pee stains in the snow.