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Take Winter by Storm: A Checklist for November


Providing winning solutions for horse management and the environment since 1997

Take Winter by Storm: A Checklist for November

Alayne Blickle

  • Review your horse health routine with your veterinarian. Good dental care, a vaccination program and regular parasite control are important components of a regular horse care routine, but with the start of cold weather when your horse may have trouble maintaining body weight or condition, they are even more important.
  • Buy your winter supply of hay. An average 1000 pound horse requires approximately 2% of its body weight daily in hay. That equals about 20 pounds of hay per day. Since hay is sold by the ton (2000 pounds), one ton of hay will last about three and 1/3 months per average sized horse. Consider adding a couple extra pounds of hay on extremely cold nights; body head generated by eating and digesting hay helps keep your horse warm. Avoid over or under feeding by always weighing your hay and grain!
  • Bring in footing material for paddocks, confinement and other high traffic areas. Now is the time to secure any footing materials you might need before demand drives up the price and stock is low. It is also easier for trucks to deliver materials before ground becomes slick or muddy. Hogfuel (chipped wood), gravel (1/2 to 5/8 inch crushed rock) or sand (coarse washed) are all good choices; they work best put when down on dry ground, not on top of mud where they will sink along with your investment dollars!
  • If you blanket, check your cold-weather, water-proof horse blankets. Repair rips or do other needed mending or washing so blankets are ready when you need them. And don't forget to consider your own clothing needs. Riding and daily chores are much easier if you are toasty and warm.
  • Tarp your manure piles. This will keep the nutrients you are trying to save for pastures in the compost and not allow them to get washed out into surface waters or other areas where they can cause a potential problem.
  • Check gutters and downspouts. Now is the time to clean as well as make needed repairs or additions to your roof runoff system. Divert rainwater away from your paddocks and barn to vegetated areas, where it won't get contaminated and make mud. Chores are a snap when you and your horse aren't ankle deep in muck.
  • Reroute surface water. Runoff from driveways, parking areas and hillsides adjacent to your barn or paddocks can add significantly to the problem of flooding and managing mud. Ditches, french drains, rain gardens, water diversion bars, swales and culverts are all useful means for diverting water away from buildings and confinement areas.
  • Bring your horses in off pastures. If you're lucky enough to have pasture, now is the time to baby it. For winter protection, it's best if you allow grass plants to produce a good amount of leaf growth, at least four inches before they go dormant. Dormant pastures plants can't survive the trampling and compaction of soil by horse hooves. Continuous grazing by horses in winter weakens root systems and makes it hard for pastures to get established in the spring. 
  • Review your lighting needs. When you're feeding at night will you have enough light to see if the hay you're feeding is green, or moldy? Would you be better able to do manure pick-up chores in paddocks with flood lighting? Have you been meaning to put lighting along walkways? Now is a good time to call an electrician before it's freezing and you're feeding by flashlight.
  • Consider emergency and winter storm preparedness. Do you have flashlights where you need them, in easy access locations? Extra batteries? How about fuel for generators, cook stoves and lanterns? Battery powered headlamps that free up your hands are also excellent to have on hand.
  • Set up a water supply that won't freeze or get icy cold. A horse drinks 8 to 12 gallons of water per day, preferring water temperatures of 45 to 65 degrees. Horses tend to drink less when water is cold and it is critical to understand that a horse cannot get enough moisture by eating snow. Break ice twice a day on cold days and consider a stock tank heater or heated stall buckets, or haul water from a teakettle to add to ice-cold water. Rain barrels or garbage cans can be used to store water where it won't freeze if you are at risk of losing your water supply during power outages. 30 gallons of water, a three day supply for one horse, is the general recommendation to have on hand according to emergency officials. 
  • Insulate pipes and faucets with heat tape or other insulation materials.Check with your local hardware store for recommendations. Also, hoses should be disconnected for the winter from any faucets when not in use, and faucets winterized as needed.
  • Eliminate potential rodent habitat. Mice and rats can cause a lot of damage by eating or contaminating feed. They can also create structural damage and even start building fires by chewing through wires. Keeping food in secure bins, hay swept up, and piles of towels, rags, horse blankets, feed bags eliminated - anything that could be potential nesting material - will help eliminate inviting habitat. Pet food is also a favorite of nocturnal critters, so pick up and put away food you feed your barn pets at night. 
  • Maintain good ventilation, and don't forget your tack! Good ventilation in winter is a must for horses, who can be prone to respiratory problems from too much dust and ammonia fumes collecting in a closed up barn. Keeping an outside door open, or at least a window in each stall, is a must. Ventilation is healthy for your tack also. A few suggestions to discourage mold and germs are: install a ceiling fan for airflow, keep a light on, install a heater with a thermostat rated for outdoor/barn use, or use any other safe method you can think of to inhibit moist, stagnant air by utilizing heat, ventilation or light.