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  • Q:

    My horses seem to drink less water in the winter. How can I encourage them to drink?

  • A:

    When environmental temperature drops, water consumption of horses often declines. Inadequate water intake will often lead to decreased feed intake, and horses may not be able to maintain body temperature or weight during frigid weather. Without sufficient water intake, gastrointestinal problems such as impaction colic may occur. Therefore, it is essential to encourage horses to drink during cold weather. Large stock tanks are appropriate waterers for horses.


    Tanks should be situated in an area that receives as much sunlight as possible. Insulating or partially burying the trough will help keep water from freezing. Covering a portion of the trough top while leaving a large enough hole for the horses to drink comfortably may also prevent freezing.


    If ice does form, it should be chipped away and removed several times daily to allow free access to water. Water intake will usually increase by 40% when the water temperature is warmed from near freezing to between 45° and 65° F. Electric water heaters can decrease winter maintenance of stock tanks, but the water should be touched daily to determine the temperature of the water and to ensure the heater is not shorting out. A mild electrical shock will rarely harm a horse, but it will likely keep a horse from drinking. In addition to heaters, water turbulence created by pumps or aerators may aid in keeping troughs ice-free. Although automatic waterers freeze infrequently, they should be checked twice daily to ensure they are functioning properly. Because of limited grazing opportunities in the winter, horses are often fed meals of dried forages and concentrates.


    It has been estimated that horses consume 75 to 80% of their daily water intake within one to two hours of eating. An adequate supply of mild-temperature water (45° to 65° F) should therefore always be available around mealtimes. Hot bran mashes do little to warm the horse in cold weather but may be a way to increase liquid intake, particularly if a supply of heated water is not available. Soaked beet pulp may provide the horse with some water as well. Horses should not be expected to meet water requirements by eating snow or chewing ice. It is estimated that for every gallon of water required

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