Horses need help during extreme cold, wet weather

Linda Benedict, Cormier, Howard J.  |  1/4/2011 1:07:58 AM

News Release Distributed 01/06/10

Horses need help to get through the coming freezing weather, according to LSU AgCenter equine agent Howard J. Cormier. Horse owners need to make plans to protect the animals from a possible deadly combination of extreme cold and rain.

“Weak adults and newborn colts can’t survive that. A normal winter hair coat is much more insulating than most horse blankets – but not if it gets wet,” Cormier said.

Adding a heavy blanket or piling on several light blankets can actually make a horse colder because it flattens out the horse’s hair and destroys the insulating effect, Cormier said.

If horses are accustomed to being outdoors, their hair coat will provide good protection as long as it is dry. If mud is caked on a few horses, it would be advisable to brush that off to provide more of an insulating effect. Horses that are normally kept in stalls would be helped by being blanketed, Cormier said.

Feeding is especially important during cold periods. If pastures are frozen, there will be no forage to eat, but horses will have increased demands for energy to provide body heat. Owners should provide an adequate diet to maintain body heat during the cold spell.

“Feed and decent hay are critical,” Cormier said. “Buy feed and hay now, in case stores close during periods of no electricity.”

Water is a major consideration during freezing weather. Horses still need to drink, even in cold weather. Owners should make plans to save water in horse troughs, barrels, ponds or any other large containers in case the well goes out or the water is shut off for several days.

“Don’t forget that someone will have to crack the ice, if it freezes hard,” Cormier said. “Most horses can’t do that, although those in the wild learn to do it to survive.”

Pipes can freeze solid and split, so insulate exposed pipes, Cormier said.

“You can also put buckets over low faucets after they have been insulated. Drain the water, if that is practical. There must be a way to let the water out from a low valve and air in from a high valve. Just opening the valve after you turn the water off might not be enough,” Cormier said.

Cormier said to run a water hose to a place lower than the faucet to siphon water out of the lines.

“Keeping water trickling won’t work if the power goes out, and most times it is frowned upon by water districts,” Cormier said. “Drain water hoses so they don’t break when they are frozen.”

In ryegrass pastures, low temperatures will usually cause the top of the grass to freeze. Let the horses graze as much as possible before the hard freeze, but don’t colic them if they are not used to it, Cormier said.

Cold weather before a hard freeze can harden off the ryegrass to give it some resistance to the cold, but it is doubtful that ryegrass will survive without damage at temperatures in the teens.

Horse trailer campers with water tanks should be serviced. Drain the hot water tank and lines, or keep the power on with propane or a generator to keep the water lines from freezing. A light bulb can help, too, as long as the power doesn’t go out, Cormier said.

Most drain plugs on RV hot water heaters are easily accessible from the outside panel.

“Many are plastic, so don’t over-tighten when you replace it,” Cormier said. “Don’t forget to open the shower faucet and sink to drain water out of the lines, too.”

Editor: Linda Foster Benedict
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