Winter water needs

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — During the extremely bitter temperatures throughout most of the Upper Midwest, is critically important that horse owners ensure their horses receive enough water of the proper temperature.

“Horses should be eating more forage as weather gets cold. However, a horse owner must ensure that their horses are also getting enough water,” said Mindy Hubert, SDSU Extension Small Acreage Field Specialist.

Unless they receive enough water, Hubert explained the horse’s bulky gut fill and lack of water can lead to impaction colic.

“Horses naturally tend to drink less when water is cold, frozen, or difficult to get to. Therefore, it is our job to ensure that palatable water is available to them,” she said.

Many horse owners wonder if it’s ok for their horses to eat snow to help meet their water requirements, Hubert said. She explains that although eating snow alone won’t directly harm horses, calories are being used to melt the snow that should be used for body warmth.

“Furthermore, it takes six times as much snow to provide an equal amount of water. That means to obtain just one gallon of water, your horse needs to consume the equivalent of six gallons of snow,” she said.

For the required eight-12 gallons of water needed per day, that same horse would need to eat 48-72 gallons of snow per day.

“Obviously it is not feasible for a horse to consume sufficient amounts of water through snow alone,” she said.

If a horse owner is unable to provide a heated water source for their horses during cold temperatures, then Hubert said they must frequently provide fresh, frost-free water as often as possible throughout the day, keeping in mind:

• Water should be maintained between 45 and 65 degrees F, and any ice crystals should be removed

• Water should be checked at least twice daily and provided at all times

• Horses will drink eight to 12 gallons a day:

• Under normal conditions, a horse will consume approximately 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight (1000 pound horse will consume 10-12 gallons; working and/or lactating horses require more)

• Pregnant mares require about 10 percent more water than non-pregnant mares

• As the water temperature decreases, the same 1000 pound may consume as little as 1 to 3 gallons of water daily when water temperature is 32 degrees F; because this decrease in water intake may contribute to an impaction colic, it is necessary to take the steps to keep water between 45 and 65 degrees F.

For more information on how to keep water at ideal temperatures, visit