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Winter Feeding 

Tips for warmth and conditioning.

As the daylight hours get shorter and the temperature drops, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how your horse’s daily nutritional requirements will change over the winter months. Because the colder weather puts extra demands on the horse’s metabolism, meaning more energy is required for daily activities, most horses will need additional calories to maintain optimum condition over this time. Making dietary adjustments now and altering the diet according to condition over winter is important for ensuring he or she stays in tip-top condition right through until spring.

Some horses, particularly ponies, do just fine in winter and need no real change in management. Other types, such as Thoroughbreds, may be poor doers and require extra calories to maintain condition over the colder months. Increasing dietary calories can be achieved in various ways, and the following dietary examples give options for various types of horses.

Forage should be the basis of all horses’ diets and each horse should consume at least 1.5% of their body weight in pasture and/or hay daily. If pastures are low, then supplementary hay will be required and chaff and other fibre sources are also ideal. Legume forages such as clover or lucerne generally contain more energy than grass hays, and well-made grass/clover or grass/lucerne mixes can be terrific for horses in the winter time.

Additional fibre sources such as beet pulp and soy hulls are fabulous for winter feeding as the highly digestible fibre helps to keep the hindgut healthy and the horse warm. High fat feeds can also be a real advantage in the cold weather for preventing weight loss. Fat contains two-and-a-half to three times the energy of grain and is therefore a great way of increasing calories in the diet without feeding large amounts. Good fat sources are vegetable oils such as cold pressed canola, sunflower seeds (25-30% fat) and rice bran (15-20% fat).

McMillan Grain Free is a blend of super fibres beet pulp and soy hulls. It is a great option for a high-fibre complete feed that is low in starch and sugars, making it perfect for maintaining weight for horses that are prone to certain metabolic conditions and laminitis. Grain Free also contains high-quality cold pressed canola oil for a highly digestible fat source. KER Equi-Jewel® is a high-fat, low starch energy supplement that is one of the most effective and safest ways at achieving weight gain. Equi-Jewel is a fabulous addition to any diet for winter to increase energy density. The following is an example of a balanced diet consisting of forage, Grain Free and Equi-Jewel, for a 500kg horse at maintenance. 



McMillan Rapid Gain is a high protein, textured muesli that is another fantastic feed for achieving weight gain over winter. Rapid Gain contains steam flaked grains for maximum digestibility, high-quality protein sources, cold pressed canola oil and high amounts of organic trace minerals and natural vitamin E.

See an example diet below.

In summary, monitor your horses’ body condition carefully and make dietary changes at the first sign of bad weather or weight loss.

For more information on feeding horses over the colder months, or for a custom-made diet designed specifically for your horse, contact McMillan Equine Nutritionist Luisa Wood.

Email: or

Phone: 027 809 7846.

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