Winter Horse Care
As we are in the dead of winter while I write this it brings to light a question I am asked a lot. How do I take care of my horses or my livestock in the winter is usually the question but since we have 4 seasons I think they are all important.
Let’s start with the easiest and that is summer. The only major issue you have in summer is bugs. And that is largely going to depend on how wet of an environment you live in. If you are close to water West Nile Vaccine is a must and you are going to want to provide a tight fly mask that keeps everyone off their faces. Other than that our horses and livestock are pretty happy up here in summer. I have a few cures for the bug bites in their ears. Contact me for it if you need help.
Fall is great we usually start freezing a little at night. Kiss the bugs goodbye. Happy to see them go and the worst-case scenario is we have a few warm rains. Our critters rarely ever come in under shelter in the fall. Maybe if it’s one that socks in and really goes for it for a few days but the ground is open so usually, no mud unless you have some funny ground or a really wet season. There are a few areas that will turn to mud quickly but not something to the extent that I would be worried about. And really not that common. We really appreciate having the dust gone and the pollen settled. I would have to say fall is my favorite season here in Idaho. Great time to ride! Don’t forget a bell for your horse and hunter orange. Hunting season is beginning.
So the first thing I am going to say is your animals are not as cold as you are if you moved here with plenty of time for them to acclimate. Probably not the time to clip out the horse’s ears but other than that let them hair up and you will die laughing as they roll and play in the snow.
Now the things to worry about. Water! You need to have some form or way of getting thawed-out water to them during the coldest part of winter. You realistically really only have about a month of water freezing solid weather but it will come. My suggestion is some form of heated bucket/ tank heater/ heated water trough. Or a strong back that wants to haul water several times a day. For a heated bucket/tank heater you’re going to need power. Make sure you are not overloading your circuits if you have more than 1 bucket to plug in. Really sucks on a cold morning to find all your buckets froze solid because the breaker flipped.
If you are running extension cords make sure you don’t need them for something else during that time. They will probably freeze into some ice and get buried and be an absolute pain if you have to pull them up. The other important thing (don’t ask me how I know) make sure those cords are not in the path of the equipment that keeps you plowed/blown out. They don’t go thru the snow blower very well. Just saying!
I installed automatic heated stock tanks about a year and a half ago. Had lived with them in a barn that I trained out of for years so I have horror stories for you for when they go bad and some good ideas of how to make them better. The stable I rented had them sitting on railroad ties. Yes, they balance up there real nice and you can run the water under them and the power to plug them in. They are awesome the guts of them run somewhat like a toilet bowl so you have a float that turns your water on and off and you can adjust your water level etc. There are issues if you set them on wood. Probably was great at install time – 20 years later wood/water/ toilet bowl float that needs to stay level is not so nice. Wood and water never mix and if those automatic waterers get uneven they are a pain in the butt. The floats will break off inside guess who no longer shuts off your water. Yea that’s a visual to come out to in the morning. I bailed enough water out of stalls to say I never wanted any again.
So my food for thought. They have to be perfectly level to really work well. I put mine on 4-inch deep squares of concrete. That is not thick enough to handle the ground frost heaving in the spring or the weight of the horse who comes up next to the waterer all year and makes the ground settle more where it slobbers and puts its front feet. I think 6 to 8 inches would be much more appropriate for the concrete pad and probably packed rock around the concrete from there. Maybe if it’s a deep enough pad it could be big enough for the horses to stand on while they are drinking. I was concerned about slipping and them tearing them up but maybe that would be better. You have to remember you drain them where they sit to clean them and that runs around them and helps the ground settle also. So I think you’re going to have some maintenance anyway you look at it but there are a few things you can do better than I did. If you come up with the perfect solution please share.
They always need to have the option to come in. At least a roof over their head. If you are out in the prairie where the wind blows might need sides also. Chances are in the snow they will not come in. It never seems to bother them to get snowed on and if they have a good coat they won’t even be wet under the first layer of hair. If you are worried blanket them. I blanket mine but it is only because they are pathetic babies that I like to coddle. It’s not because they “need” it. I have kept horses in this area for 25+ years and they are fine in the snow. Now when I was professionally training the horses that we hauled up here from Tennessee or warmer climates they were cold in the winter the first winter if they didn’t get here early enough to acclimate but otherwise they love the snow.
Spring is my big one where I say Shelter!!
And I am going to say if your horse is not smart enough to come in out of the rain then a way to lock the smart one up under the shelter. Corral panels whatever it takes. Unfortunately not every horse is smart enough to come out of the rain. Especially when it is very common up here to have a tin roof. They get cold in the early spring. It’s wet there is nowhere for them to lay down it can be a mess. It’s not the late spring rains it’s the early ones. In February, and March there is still snow on the ground and it is still frozen under the snow so the rain is mixed with the snow and when it comes in it may rain for a few days straight. Once they are wet to the skin they are cold. So you know your horse but if this is your first year here just keep that in the back of your mind as sometimes a metal roof really bothers them. And you have to remember it will be 38 or 40 degrees. Just cold enough to rain.
Other than that a little extra food in the cold times and they are pretty much handled. I do like to throw mine a little loose salt every other day or so to keep them drinking well.
All my other animals are pretty much the same care. My sheep as long as they have nonfrozen water and don’t have to stand in the rain are happy as can be. Dogs, chickens they all need a heated waterer. I usually buy a dog waterer for my chickens. I find those heated chicken waterers don’t last very long. They do fine with a dog one as long as it’s a little raised so they don’t fill it with gunk.
I’m sure there are better and other ideas but this is what works for me. It’s always a work in progress. But I find winter doesn’t have to be too hard as long as you are prepared for it. Please feel free to leave some comments or ask some questions. This is a beautiful area to call home. Contact me here with your questions. And if you are just considering North Idaho for your new home Please shop for homes here!