Win­ter prep to-do list

There’s still time to pre­pare your horses and barn for the cold weather ahead.


There’s still time to pre­pare your horses and barn for the cold weather ahead.

One minute we were wor­ried about fly spray and scorch­ing heat. Then we blinked and it was late fall. How a sea­son that comes ev­ery year still man­ages to sneak up on horse own­ers is a mys­tery, but more than a few of us will wake up one morn­ing very soon to find pas­tures cov­ered in hard frost and a win­ter to-do list that has sud­denly taken on new ur­gency. If the sea­son has crept up on you this year, don’t worry. There’s still time to pre­pare for the frigid, snowy con­di­tions that may lie ahead. From check­ing the fit of blan­kets, to en­sur­ing your trac­tor is cold-weather ready, there are many win­ter­iz­ing chores you can still get done be­fore the tem­per­a­tures drop. Ded­i­cate a week­end now to work­ing down this list. When the worst weather hits, you’ll be glad you did.

TO DO: Re­view your blan­ket sit­u­a­tion

If any of your horses will wear blan­kets this win­ter, now is the time to en­sure they are in good re­pair and still fit. Even if you checked care­fully be­fore stor­ing blan­kets this past spring, it’s worth­while to spend a few min­utes giv­ing them a once-over. Start by spread­ing each blan­ket out flat in a clean area with plenty of light. Ex­am­ine it for dam­age, such as rips and frays in the fab­ric, sep­a­rated seams, snaps and buck­les that no longer work, miss­ing straps, mold and mildew, or ev­i­dence of dam­age from mice or in­sects. Be sure to check both sides of the blan­ket and give straps and seams a good tug to judge their strength. Be­cause you’re start­ing early, there is likely still time to have blan­kets with mi­nor dam­age re­paired or to or­der re­place­ment parts from the man­u­fac­turer. If you have a heavy-duty sewing ma­chine and the nec­es­sary skills, you may be able to mend a blan­ket your­self. Other­wise, ask around the lo­cal horse com­mu­nity for rec­om­men­da­tions for a ser­vice that spe­cial­izes in equine blan­ket re­pair. You might also be able to use the In­ter­net to a find a ser­vice far­ther away that will ac­cept blan­kets for re­pair by mail, but time may be run­ning out for that so­lu­tion. If a blan­ket is in good shape, make sure it still fits your horse. It’s im­por­tant to check fit, even if the same horse wore that very blan­ket last year. A horse’s shape changes with age and fit­ness lev­els, and the body he had last win­ter may not be the body he has now. To check the fit of a blan­ket, place it on the horse and

ad­just all the straps as they would be for reg­u­lar wear. Then, scru­ti­nize how it sits at the withers: Un­less it’s de­signed to be cut back, the front edge of the prop­erly fit­ted blan­ket will sit well in front of the withers---cov­er­ing about three inches of mane hair. If the blan­ket fits well, you will be able to slide your hand eas­ily be­tween the withers and the blan­ket. If you can’t, the neck hole may be too small. This is a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant assess­ment be­cause pres­sure on the withers from a blan­ket can be painful enough to cause lame­ness over time. Next, slide your hand be­tween the blan­ket and the horse’s shoul­ders. Can you move your hand eas­ily through? Then, slide your hand be­tween the belly straps and the horse’s bar­rel. A few inches of clear­ance will pre­vent rub­bing with­out pos­ing a hoof­trap­ping haz­ard. You can most likely ad­just the belly straps for a bet­ter fit. Fi­nally, of­fer the horse a treat at ground level and watch to see if the neck hole of the blan­ket re­stricts his abil­ity to reach it. A blan­ket that pinches high on a horse’s chest may be so un­com­fort­able that it lim­its how much hay he will eat over the course of the win­ter. If a blan­ket doesn’t fit your horse this year, see if one of your spares will do the trick. Or, you may need to go blan­ket shop­ping. If that’s the case, don’t de­lay. The avail­able se­lec­tion will only be­come more lim­ited as cold weather ap­proaches, and you may end up pay­ing a pre­mium to get what you need.

TO DO: Check the con­di­tion of older horses

Most horses man­age cold weather just fine. They are very good at keep­ing them­selves warm by con­sum­ing large amounts of hay, fu­el­ing a meta­bolic “slow burn” that pro­duces in­ter­nal heat. With plenty of hay most horses can keep warm with­out sac­ri­fic­ing their in­su­lat­ing fat stores to use as en­ergy. Older horses, how­ever, can lose this abil­ity. When den­tal chal­lenges make it more dif­fi­cult to ad­e­quately chew stemmy for­age,

an older horse may be un­able to eat enough hay to stoke his in­ter­nal fur­nace. In that sit­u­a­tion, the horse can quickly lose body con­di­tion, leav­ing him less pro­tected from the cold. If the weight loss goes un­no­ticed un­der blan­kets or a heavy coat, an older horse can be­come dan­ger­ously thin within a few weeks dur­ing the win­ter months. You can head off this win­ter weight-loss cy­cle now, be­fore the tem­per­a­tures drop. Start by de­ter­min­ing the body con­di­tion score (BCS) of your older horses. A vis­ual and hands-on assess­ment of fat de­posits at strate­gic lo­ca­tions on the body (for a full ex­pla­na­tion, visit www. equ­us­, BCS is ranked on a nine-point scale, and an older horse will ide­ally have a BCS of 6 or 7 go­ing into the win­ter months. This will al­low for slight weight loss if the weather be­come frigid with­out putting his health at risk. If your older horse is cur­rently un­der­weight, talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about the safest way to bulk him up be­fore win­ter. Sup­ple­ment­ing a horse’s ra­tion with corn oil or a fat-based sup­ple­ment is

If your older horse is cur­rently un­der­weight, talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about the safest way to bulk him up be­fore win­ter.

usu­ally a safe way to pro­vide ex­tra calo­ries and pounds. An­other pri­or­ity is mak­ing sure your older horse can de­rive the nu­tri­ents from his feed. Ar­range for a den­tal exam to check for ab­nor­mal­i­ties that may limit his abil­ity to chew hay. If, how­ever, your horse is so old his teeth have stopped erupt­ing, it may not be pos­si­ble to cor­rect all of his den­tal prob­lems. In that case, you’ll prob­a­bly want to switch to a com­plete feed, which in­cor­po­rates for­age and other nu­tri­ents into a pro­cessed pel­let---you may need to soak even that prod­uct in warm wa­ter to make it eas­ier to chew. Also don’t for­get that many se­nior feeds can sup­ply ev­ery­thing an older horse needs to main­tain his weight. Bagged, chopped hay is

an­other win­ter for­age op­tion for older horses with den­tal trou­bles. Your vet­eri­nar­ian can help you de­ter­mine which feed or prod­uct might be the best choice for your horse.

TO DO: Win­ter­ize your farm

Frigid weather and pre­cip­i­ta­tion can take a toll on the struc­tures and equip­ment on your prop­erty. Just as you might pre­pare your home for the com­ing sea­son, you’ll want to take steps to win­ter­ize cer­tain ar­eas around your farm. Start by clean­ing out gut­ters and drainage ditches. De­bris block­ing the path of wa­ter can cause rain and snowmelt to back up onto roofs and around the foun­da­tion of your build­ings. If that wa­ter freezes, “ice dams” may form, lead­ing to struc­tural dam­age. While you’re at it, “har­den” high traf­fic ar­eas of your pas­tures, such as around gates and troughs, with a layer of gravel. This will help keep mud in check through a wet win­ter sea­son. If you have the time and fi­nan­cial re­sources, you may want to look into hav­ing a geo­tex­tile fab­ric pro­fes­sion­ally in­stalled in chronic prob­lem ar­eas. Dou­ble-check that your tank wa­ter heaters are fully func­tional and that the heat­ing el­e­ments of au­to­matic wa­ter­ers are work­ing. De­hy­dra­tion is the pri­mary cause of im­paction colic dur­ing win­ter months, and you’ll want to be cer­tain that your horses have ac­cess to fresh wa­ter at all times. Horses can­not stay hy­drated by eat­ing snow. If any heaters or heat­ing el­e­ments look worse for wear or ques­tion­able, re­pair­ing or re­plac­ing them now is an in­vest­ment in your horse’s health. Also ser­vice the power equip­ment you’ll need in the com­ing months. Change engine oil, flush and re­place an­tifreeze, lu­bri­cate and tune up trac­tors, snow­blow­ers and other such equip­ment. Make sure any cold-weather at­tach­ments, such as a plow blade, are in good shape and set out in an ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tion. If you’ll be stor­ing your trailer for the sea­son, take an af­ter­noon to pre­pare it. Not only will this lengthen its life, but you’ll be ready to roll in the spring. Pull up mats and scrub the in­te­rior, drain wa­ter tanks and re­move tack and equip­ment. When the trailer is dry, close all doors and vents and park it in­doors

De­hy­dra­tion is the pri­mary cause of im­paction colic dur­ing win­ter months, and you’ll want to be cer­tain that your horses have ac­cess to fresh wa­ter at all times.

or, if that’s not pos­si­ble, on a smooth, level, well-drained area. If you can do it safely, jack the trailer up on all four cor­ners to take weight off the tires. If you’ll be us­ing your trailer over the win­ter, en­sure your tires---on both the truck and trailer---are suit­able for the weather con­di­tions and in good shape. Fi­nally, take a few hours to walk your fence line, shak­ing posts and in­spect­ing boards as you go. Carry a ham­mer and wire ten­sion­ers with you so you can make mi­nor re­pairs and mark ar­eas that need more at­ten­tion with sur­veyor’s tape. Then plan to ad­dress those tasks be­fore the worst weather ar­rives.

TO DO: Stock up on sup­plies

Run­ning out of any­thing in the win­ter months can be an­noy­ing, but be­ing with­out cer­tain items on a farm dur­ing rough weather can lead to sig­nif­i­cant and

dif­fi­cult-to-solve prob­lems. Take some time now to in­ven­tory these cru­cial items and re­plen­ish if nec­es­sary:

• Hay. Ide­ally, by the end of sum­mer your hayloft or shed was stocked well enough to get you through the en­tire win­ter, plus a bit ex­tra. Hay is cru­cial to your horse’s di­ges­tive health as well as his com­fort, keep­ing him warm and oc­cu­pied. If your hay sup­ply is low, start work­ing the phones right now to pur­chase more. The longer you wait, the harder hay will be to find and the more you’ll have to pay. If you can’t find enough hay of suf­fi­cient qual­ity, talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about us­ing hay cubes or an­other suit­able sub­sti­tute to stretch your sup­ply for the full sea­son.

• Med­i­ca­tions and sup­ple­ments. In the­ory, it shouldn’t be dif­fi­cult to re­place a horse’s med­i­ca­tions and sup­ple­ments in the dead of win­ter, but a sig­nif­i­cant snow or ice storm could lead to that sce­nario. If a cer­tain med­i­ca­tion is cru­cial to your horse’s health---such as bute for an older, arthritic horse or per­golide0 for a horse with pi­tu­itary0 pars in­ter­me­dia dys­func­tion---talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about hav­ing ex­tra on hand, just in case. Also or­der sup­ple­ments ahead of time if you’re wor­ried a ship­ment could be de­layed.

• Anti-ice ma­te­ri­als. If you live in a lo­ca­tion where icy is a com­mon win­ter con­di­tion, stock up now on salt, sand or non-clump­ing kitty lit­ter to pro­vide es­sen­tial trac­tion around the farm. Salt is most ef­fec­tive, but some types can burn the paws of small an­i­mals or kill veg­e­ta­tion. On the other hand, sand and kitty lit­ter are less caus­tic but very messy. In a pinch, you can use dirty bed­ding for trac­tion, but it may in­su­late the ice be­neath it, lead­ing to a slower melt time. While you’re at it, make sure you have suf­fi­cient snow shov­els and ice scrap­ers and all are in good re­pair.

• Flash­lights and light bulbs. Light is at a pre­mium dur­ing the short days of win­ter, so you’ll want to be sure you have what you need to see clearly. Check that all the lights in the barn work, and have ex­tra bulbs on hand. Also, have a few flash­lights at the ready, with plenty of ex­tra bat­ter­ies. Not only are flash­lights vi­tal in case of a power out­age, but they can be very help­ful when lo­cat­ing horses in pad­docks and fields dur­ing the longer nights and dark­ened morn­ings of win­ter.

Win­ter may never be the eas­i­est sea­son for horse­keep­ers, but with a lit­tle pre-plan­ning it doesn’t have to be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult. Take some time now to pre­pare, and you can re­lax to en­joy the best win­ter has to of­fer.

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