8 Feeding Tips during Extreme Summer Heat
Dr. Robert E. Bray, Star Milling’s Consulting Equine Nutritionist
The summer months can be very hot and, just like us, horses may be challenged by extreme summer temperatures. The obvious management practices include plenty of clean fresh water, a well ventilated barn, paddocks/pastures with shaded shelter or shade trees, and even a cool horse-shower with the water hose. Other tips to keep in mind are:
- Provide clean, fresh water with the water trough positioned NOT to have direct sun exposure throughout the day.
- The ideal temperature for drinking water is 48° - 65°F.
- Use a water trough, NOT buckets, NOT automatic waterers. It’s important to visualize daily water consumption and larger volumes of water are able to dissipate heat.
- Provide free access to a salt block.
You should also consider how your horses are feeding during the very hot days of summer. The following advice will help keep your horse healthy and cool:
- Feed a higher quality (earlier cut) grass hay
Mature (later cut) hay fiber requires a longer period of time for the digestive process which produces an energy form (aka “heat of digestion”) that is used for body heat. This form of energy is great for regulating body heat in the winter and cooler temperatures but can create unwanted body heat during seasonally high temperatures.
- Alfalfa should be limited
An all alfalfa forage diet provides 75 – 125% more protein than the horse requires. Excess protein requires the horse to drink more water and that water is then used to flush out (via urine) the unneeded nitrogen from the excess protein consumed.
- Feed higher soluble fiber feeds that include beet pulp and soy hulls
These two feedstuffs have very digestible fiber sources that also have an affinity for water. Feeds that attract water serve as a water reservoir through the digestive process in the gut. In turn, electrolytes also “follow” water allowing these types of feedstuffs to serve as a reservoir for electrolytes.
- Feed a higher fat balanced formula (6 – 7.5% crude fat)
Fat is digested and absorbed more efficiently than any other energy source, thus producing less “heat of digestion”.
- Feed a balanced diet and avoid excess protein feeds
Excess protein results in excess nitrogen that needs to be eliminated via urine. This leads to increased water consumption by the horse, resulting in the horse urinating a larger volume and more frequently than necessary.
- Feed small meals more frequently throughout the day
Smaller meals will help reduce the heat generated during the digestive process.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt daily or feed a commercial electrolyte supplement
Remember that dietary changes should always be gradual
One final recommendation is to maintain a body condition score of 5 to 5.5. Excess body fat makes it more difficult for the horse to cool down during high temperatures. Fat provides insulation to the body thus increases retention of heat produced during normal body functions.
More information on feeding horses can be found in Dr. Bray’s Corner.
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