Feeding Horses in the Winter

Horse in pasture during snow fall

As I was reviewing the feed program for one of my client’s lesson horses, she mentioned ordering corn to add to the feed for the winter. She felt this would provide the horses extra warmth in the cold weather. This is a common winter practice with many farms, and I explained to my client that she was correct to increase the horse’s caloric intake with falling temperatures. There is a much better alternative to corn, though – it is much more efficient and effective to increase the forage portion of the diet to help create internal heat in the winter. This is due to the fermentation process the forage goes through in the hindgut, and the heat that process gives off.

The term “critical temperature” is used determine at what temperature a horses nutritional requirements change to maintain normal body temperature. I use the temperature of 40 F as a benchmark for calculating winter diets. In essence for every 1 degree below critical temperature, I increase the horse’s caloric intake by 1%. So, if my 1000 pound horse were receiving 18.6 Mcal (18,600 calories per day), I would increase his diet by 1860 calories when the temperature goes to 30 degrees (10 X 186). If my hay has tested at 1 Mcal (1000 calories) per pound, an additional 2 pounds of hay will help my horse maintain his body condition at that temperature.

I also encourage my clients to feed a well fortified concentrate during the winter months. The lack of fresh pasture, limited sunlight hours, and often diminished hay quality require better fortification. Make sure your horse feed provides adequate levels of vitamin A, D and E.  Feeds offering probiotics and prebiotics, as well as biotin are also encouraged. If you are feed a grass hay or alfalfa hay, make sure your calcium and phosphorus levels are also balanced accordingly in your feed.

Water consumption is imperative during winter months. Make sure that the buckets are free from ice and frozen debris. In the winter horses will consume 10 to 12 gallons of water per day. Ideally the water temperature should be at 50-65 F to encourage drinking.

Examine your horses body condition score monthly during the winter to maintain a healthy horse!

39 Replies to “Feeding Horses in the Winter”

  1. During the winter, when the pasture grass goes dormint, I feed my senior horse free-choice grass hay and 6 pounds of Nutrena Senior per day. I’ve never have any problems with keeping his weight on since I started to do this.

    1. Hi Jean!
      It sounds like you have a great feed program for your horse.  The free choice grass hay will provide calories as well as the needed fiber to help keep your horse warm through the winter.  The addition of the Nutrena Senior feed will  help  provide additional calories as well as pre and probiotics, biotin, added fat, not to mention chelated vitamins and minerals for a balanced diet.

      Don’t forget the Nutrena Senior makes a great warm mash for an added treat!

      Thank you so much for sharing your success with Nutrena Senior!


      1. are there really pro and pre biotics in the senior feed?
        didnt see on the label and feedstore employees said not when I wanted to switch from spillers…since seminole bought them out the ingredients changed (but not the price!). wanted triplecrown (nutrena owned now but wont allow my store to sell.
        have to drive much farther…..?? where can find label ingredients? thanks

        1. Hi Deb! Thank you for contacting us. I regret you were misinformed about our senior feed – Life Design Senior most definitely does include both pre and probiotics, as do all of our premium horse feeds. They do show up on the label, but they have to be on the tag with their scientific names, rather than simply “prebiotics” or “probiotics”. Instead, prebiotics show up as yeast, and probiotics will show up with names similar to what you would see on a yogurt container for your own consumption that contains probiotics – a few long words starting with “lactobacillus”.

          As for Triple Crown products, we do manufacture their products in some parts of the country, but we do not own the brand or company. Since you mentioned Seminole, it is likely you are in the southeast part of the country where we do not have distribution rights for their product line.  Your best bet is to visit the Triple Crown dealer locator on their web site to find availability near you.

          Hopefully that helps, nd please do let us know if you have any further questions!
          Gayle R.

    2. if feeding 6 lbs of Nutrena a day do you mean the large green scoop? That is what I use and I feed Nutrena Mare/foal but wonder shall I add an extra noon scoop to the broodmares diets? We are down into the 30’s now at night.

      1. Hi Lisa! Great question. The problem that we have in the equine industry is that not all scoops are universal, nor do all ingredients, or even pellets, weigh the same. So we need to feed by weight not volume. You can purchase a weight scale on the Nutrena web site for under $10 dollars, otherwise I would suggest finding some type of scale to accurately weigh one serving in your scoop.

        As to your question about the temperature now dropping below the critical temperature of 40 degrees, you would want to increase their daily caloric needs by 10% (if it drops to 30 degrees..again 1% for every degree below 40.) The decision as to whether to add grain or forage as the temperature drops, also depends on your mares current body scores and when they are due to foal.

        Thanks~ Gayle R.

        1. I have always suggested my clients weigh their hay and feed so wanted to see the scale you referenced but could not find it anywhere on the Nutrena web site. Do you have a link?
          I usually have people look for a “fish scale” available in sporting goods departments.

          Thank you.

  2. My horse and two goats love your feed. And I really enjoy the coupons that I get some times.

    1. Hi Linda!
      I am happy to hear your goats and horse are doing well on our feeds.   I always enjoy hearing from our customers.   Don’t forget you can post your pictures on the Nutrena World site when you leave a review for your favorite product!

      Thank you for chosing Nutrena,

  3. What feed do you suggest, or supplements to provide A,D & E to fight the winter temps? We are feeding grass hay mainly .. thank you!

    1. Hi Kristel!
      If you could give me a little more information about your horse that would be great.  The horses age(s), body condition score, weight and work schedule will help me better determine what product would work the best in winter.  Also the amount of hay fed daily, and if there are any metabolic issues.

      Look forward to hearing from you!

  4. In addition to adding Nutrena products to my horses’ diets to increase caloric intake I also add a bit of molasses into a warm (not hot) bucket of drnking water. This tip from an “old timer” has really increased the water intake and the horses seem healthier and fuller when spring comes.

    1. Hi Brian!

      Water is definitely of major importance for horses health in winter.  Thanks for your input!


  5. Information about temp & feeding programs for winter feeding was interesting. My gelding was from Calif. and now in Mich. Our feeding programs here are totally different from Calif. He had put on about 75 lbs. the first winter. I find it difficult to keep him satisfied this fall when the temps started to drop. I’m sure if I feed him a bale of 2nd cut grass/ alfafla for his morning or evening feeding it would be totally gone. He gets 3 big flakes twice a day ( Guess weight 25-30 lbs per 3 flakes) Very dense & heavy.( First cut isn’t an option since it was rained on.) I do feed him 2 lbs of Safe Choice a day. Trying to keep him warm with hay doesn’t always work . Once he gets a winter wet snow soaking though his coat a blanket is needed. Keeping him warm & satisfied is difficult this fall. He was on pasture but due to hives I had to pull him off . Any recommendations or am I using the right grain or amount ? Body score he borderlines close to heavy He’s 14 yr 15.2 H Wt 1000-1100 + ( guess) Sure a girth would find a small roll around it. Maintence / riding is done here due to hunting season. What supplement provides the vit’s A,D & E referred to for winter ? Is it used with or without grain ? Thanks

    1. Hi J.B.
      It sounds like you are doing a great job providing your horse plenty of quality hay through the winter.  You are correct to provide a blanket for protection if the horse is out in weather conditions that can allow the coat to get wet through to the skin.  Just pay close attention that the blanket does not get saturated as well.
      There are some great new slow feed hay nets on the market that will slow the consumption rate of hay for your horse. The openings are much smaller than a regular hay net. They are available at most tack shops. This will help keep him occupied and reduce his apparently endless appetite!
      As for your grain choice, your horse would be a good candidate for Empower Balance, based on the body condition score information you have provided me.  The concentrated nutrient levels allow for low feeding rates, yet meet the vitamin and mineral requirements, whereas only 2lbs per day of SafeChoice would leave him lacking in those requirements. Remember to make any transitions over a period of 5-7 days, and keep an eye on his body condition over the winter.
      Good luck, and let us know if you have any further questions!
      Gayle R.

  6. I have been feeding Horse Kwik/Complete for over thirty years. No hay, and turn out paddocks have no grass. During that time I have never had a sick horse, no colic, no founder. Of the horses we have had during those years I have had three National Champions, six Superior pleasures and four Superior halters. Our trophy room is full. My favorite gelding was 26 when he crossed over, my leading High Point mare is 23 now, and my Stallion (Superior Pleasure/Superior Halter) is eight, and my lfour time World champion gelding is 13. All Nutrena Champions and proud of it. I have had trainers that mix their own feed, crack their own corn and oats and have colic horses all the time. Everyone should get with the program. Read the ingredients, be careful of protein, exercise regularly and make sure your pride and joys have pleanty of fresh water.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your success with Nutrena products! If you have a moment, we’d love to have you leave a product review for Triumph Complete!
      Kind Regards,

  7. I brought home a Fjord gelding that is 18 and was maybe a 2 in body score when I got him about 6 weeks ago. I have been feeding him locally mixed food, plenty of hay and a probiotic, daily wormer and minerals. He gets about 4-6 quart of grain spit into 2 feedings, which has a fair amount of corn & oats in it and about a 12% protein. I am hesitent to feed him a higher protien because he has a really loose stool which I was told by the former owner was checked by the vet and this is “normal” for him. He poops like a cow but I have managed to get it firmer. I find that 2nd cut hay makes him looser, hence the low protein theory. What would you reccomend for a grain for him, I thought maybe a senior feed, but how much, winter is coming fast I live in upstate NY. He goes in at night and right now I don’t blanket him but am considering it. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of energy at all we haven’t hitch him yet because of his condition, he is more a 3 now and but his coat is shaggy and dull. I also just started top dressing with an all fat supplement not sure how that will effect the poop. I haven’t consulted with my vet yet, not sure he would tell me anything new. I am worried about how he will do this winter. If it were summer I think he would have a better chance to get some wight on, now he has to try to stay warm too. Thanks for your adivice.

    1. Hi Jane!
      Congratulations on your new horse.  Based on his age and body condition I think you will see the best results putting him on Nutrena’s Life Design Senior horse feed.  The feed contains pro and prebiotics to aid in digestive health.  The increased amino acid levels will help with muscle mass as well as hair coat and condition.  If you go to the Knowledge Center on http://www.nutrenaworld.com and review the segment on how to weigh your horse this will help in structuring his diet.  I would recommend 1 pound per 100 pounds of body weight of the Nutrena Senior feed and free choice hay throughout the day.  I would also try to split the grain  into three feeding if possible per day.  Remember to never feed more than 5 pounds of grain at one feeding.
      As for a fat supplement, you could add 1 pound per day of Empower Boost. But I would first transition him to the senior feed over a 5-7 day period.  Once he is established on the feed for a week or two, you could begin to add the Empower Boost.   You do not want to make any sudden changes in his diet.

      Thank you for contracting Nutrena!


  8. What a great site!
    I’ve never really known what’s the best way to feed my horses. I have a 14 year old Quarab who is an easy keeper so I only give about 2 cups of Safe Choice and 2 cups of sweet feed a day half in the morning and half in the evening. I also feed about 20 pounds (3 flakes) of grass hay morning and night. He isn’t used much in the winter due to hunting season and extreme cold here in Iowa; he keeps a steady weight of – guessing about a 6.5-7 — my concern is that he doesn’t get enough of the esential vitamins and minerals he needs with such a small about of grain. Most people ’round here don’t feed grain and say I spoil my horses and that’s why they’re so fat but I don’t think the hay gives them everything they need…. this is a good dense 2nd crop grass hay, the bales weight about 55 pounds. The sweet feed I give them is made by Nutrene as well, just can’t think of the name of it but it’s 12% protein, there are 2 choices one is pelleted and one is not, I use the one that is not. I hope this makes sense and you can offer me some advise! I also have a 2nd horse I’d like to discuss but right now we’ll just talk about Colonel.

    1. Hi Rhonda!
      Great question. It sounds like Colonel is well cared for! I would recommend one change, however, to your program. You are correct in your guess that based on his low feeding rate of the Safe Choice, he is probably not getting the vitamin mineral balance that he needs. I would recommend feeding Empower Balance, instead of the SafeChoice. It is specifically designed to be fed at low rates for easy keepers.

      Based on his Life Stage/Activity Level, you would feed 0.1 – 0.2 Lbs per 100 lbs of Bodyweight to maintain his current body condition. So if he’s 1000 lbs, you’d feed 1-2 lbs per day. Divide the recommended feed amount into two feedings per day, feeding at the same time each day to maintain proper digestion. You could mix the Empower Balance with the Nutrena sweet feed you are currently using, at the same inclusion rate your are using with the Safe Choice.

      Thank you again for contacting Nutrena!

  9. just found ur reply to my concerns an another season gone by. My Calif gelding has adjusted to Mich now with winter/ colder enviorments.No more blanket but Not sure TSC has Empower . Thought Empower was a supplement only ? I will check into it. Just used one of your TERRIFIC coupons so I need to use the Safe Choice (5 bags) such a big help with our economy. If I understood someone I spoke with recently he would require 2 1/2 lbs for daily requirements but due to his wt I have considered dropping him to 1 lb. a day for the winter to keep his hay wt. I do have a new mare that I could feed it too but concerned it will make her too energized for spring. My other gelding is fat on air so can’t use it for him. Always concerned about their minerals & vit intake especially selenium in Mich. I’ve used Nutrena for many yrs & people always comment about their color being more brillant. Their always health ! Thanks for your info

    1. Hey JB, Thanks for checking in again. There are two Empower products – Empower Boost is our rice bran weight supplement, and has been around a number of years now – this is probably the one you are thinking of, and it is indeed a supplement only – cannot be fed as the sole grain ration. The other, newer product, is Empower Balance – it is a ‘ration balancer’ – which is a type of feed that is designed to be fed at very low amounts along with hay/pasture to horses who don’t need the extra calories of a traditional feed.
      You can feed Empower Balance as the sole grain ration, and provide the protein/vitamins/minerals that your horse needs, without the calories that a product like SafeChoice provides.
      Hope that helps! ~Gina T.

  10. We add electrolytes and provide warm water during the winters months here in Northern Az. So far this has worked well for us.

  11. I keep my 16 year old mare is at a boarding stable. She was on pasture with occasional pelleted feed post workout all summer. In the fall she transitioned to a dry lot with a large bale. 8 -10 hours on the bale , the remainder of the day, no feed. She ran between 1080 and 1100 lbs with a hay belly, good coat and decent muscling. When the extreme cold started the barn owner increases the access to hay to 24 hours…with the last day of the bale designated as clean up day. No new bale until all hay cleaned up. Herd of 8. She gradually started losing wait so I started supplementing with Nutrena Safe Choice. I was able to move her into a stall this month but have limited control over the hay she gets. 2 flakes am and pm of alfalfa grass mix, not weighed or analysed. She was starting to lose weight outside and has lost even more weight since she came inside. She gets 2 lbs of Safe Choice AM and 2lbs of Stock and Stable 12% pm. I can control the amount and type of concentrate. What do you recommend a) while she is in the stall and b) when she goes back out to the dry lot in the spring.

    1. Hi Shelley! You are right we need to make some dietary adjustment. Based on the information you gave me, I would recommend feeding Safe Choice Senior and Empower Boost. We need to replenish calories and fiber in the diet, but we need to do it slowly and keep the ration balanced.

      You can begin adding the Empower Booster at a rate of 1 pound per day. However, I would like you to transition over to Senior feed over a 5 day period. Once your mare is completely on the Senior feed, you can begin to increase her daily ration by only 1/2 pound per day, until you are at the feed rate of 8 pounds of Safe Choice Senior total per day.

      I feel confident this will get your mare back to her former body condition. Once she is out on the dry lot during Spring, you can continue to monitor her body condition, and should be able to discontinue the Empower Boost. Based on her forage consumption this Spring you may be able to adjust her Safe Choice Senior intake by a pound or two depending on her body condition.

      Please keep me advised as to your progress!


  12. Thanks, Gayle. I’ve started the transition. Will let you know how she does. Just one issue with the Senior Feed. There was a hard lump of feed in the bag I purchased. Like some of the pellet dust had been exposed to some liquid during the feed prep. Bag didn’t show any signs of dampness. I did notice that all the bags on the pallet were hard but broke up easily. The store employee said that it came like that because the bags were compressed by their own weight. Is this common?

  13. My mare looks better already. Still monitoring but she is eating well, has lots of energy and has lost the “tucked up” look. Thanks for all your help.

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  15. I appreciate the definition of “critical temperature.” That is something I have never known and I think it’s important to know for all kinds of stock when worrying about feeding them year-round. My friend is thinking about working on a farm so knowing animal nutrition requirements and proper feed will be essential for him.

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