Skip to main content

Bel Joeor Sale and Giveaway!

Amanda from Bel Joeor is hosting a big sale on her Etsy site and a giveaway on her blog!  She makes beautiful saddle covers and bags.  I highly recommend checking out her shop and entering her contest.  


Horsekeeping in the Arctic...

...err, I mean Maine.

The last few days here have been pretty brutal, with nighttime temps dipping down to -20 and daytime highs around 5 above.  It said -12 this morning at 6:45 when I woke up and now it is up to 3 degrees at 2PM.  This is not my favorite time of year, and despite having been born here, I am not a fan of winter.  Granted, it doesn't help that I have a blood vessel disorder (that has no cure).  We always get super cold weather for a brief stretch of time, but that doesn't mean I ever get used to it!

hahaha I definitely wonder sometimes
I think there are several factors that come into play when keeping horses happy in such frigid temps.  I am by no means a professional and what works for me and my horses will not work for everyone.  But as I close in on thirty years of owning horses, there are definitely a few things I have learned along the way.  As always, your mileage may vary and check with your veterinarian when in doubt.

FEED HAY.  LOTS OF HAY.
Seriously, I don't think there is a more important winter management rule for horses.  I personally feed second crop hay and I break it up into four feedings a day.  Buy the very best quality hay you can.  I get to know the quantity my horses will eat without wasting it.  In brutal cold temps, I make sure they always have hay in front of them.  I personally don't like round bales, but I know a lot of people feel they work well in cold temps.

This was Christmas Day!  MUCH warmer than today!
Provide fresh water 
I remember as a child hearing the old wives tale that horses will just eat snow in the winter.  Wrong.  I personally do not use heated water buckets, but I know many folks do.  I think they are barn burners and I just don't think it is worth the risk.  I also have horses that are prone to sticking things in their mouths because they are nosy, so the idea of electrocuting a horse because they chewed a wire freaks me out.  I know a lot of people disagree with this idea, but I have never had a problem with horses drinking without heated water buckets.  Does this mean I am breaking ice and refilling buckets 4-5 times a day?  Yup.  But it works for me and it is not impossible.  Also, warm water freezes faster than cold water, so all that work of lugging hot water to the barn is probably doing nothing.  Granted, there are horses out there that drink better when the water is tepid, or I also use rubber buckets in the winter to eliminate the plastic ones from breaking.  I have broken a lot of regular water buckets over the years and finally smartened up haha.  I also don't use a hammer to knock ice out, because that for sure is going to put a hole or shatter a bucket.  If you do choose to use heated buckets or drop in tank heaters, make sure your wiring is up to code and you follow all safety precautions.
Horses do not eat snow to quench thirst.  Dreamy is just being a weirdo.
Blanket thoughtfully
I don't think every horse needs to be blanketed.  Most horses grow excellent winter coats and nothing we can buy at Smartpak will ever be better than what they naturally already own.  I have only ever blanketed if I have clipped a horse (Dreamy used to get clipped for fox hunting and then I was committed to a winter/spring of blanketing).  Buy decent blankets for the job intended.  Don't use a lightweight blanket on a horse and flatten their hair coat, which is my biggest pet peeve of blanketing.  Now, with the temps barely reaching 5 degrees, I did dig out my heavyweights (370 grams of fill) and blanketed both of the mares who are unclipped.  Had I left them in their stalls, I probably would not have done so, but I like them out moving around.  And the windchill made the temps more like -25, so I feel that giving them a super warm blanket is best for windy conditions.  They have been totally fine the last two days.  I watch how they stand, how long they eat, what is seems like they need because I know them well.  So my best advice is to know your horse.  Every horse is different and has different needs.  Snappy liked to drop weight, so I often blanketed her in the winter because it seemed to help.  Plus, she never grew the yak like winter coat that all my others do.

Try to arrange your set up to work for you, not against you
Most of us cannot design the barn of our dreams for a multitude of reasons haha.  Mine is pretty close but this whole budget thing got in the way.  I'd love something even more extravagant!.  ;-)  That said, don't make things harder for you.  For example, every winter I always see people posting on FB about how much they hate lugging water from their houses, and all I can think is that it really  doesn't take much to save for and install a simple water line and hydrant to the barn.  Try to figure out a good hay storage situation so you don't have to buy it throughout the winter ($$$) or have to go after it every week because the storage area is small.  Granted, saving and spending money on a water line or hay storage in the summer months is not nearly as fun as a tropical vacation during winter months, but it sure does make life easier.

A tractor helps, but at least have a snowblower or snowplow on the truck to move snow.  I am so lucky that I no longer have to SHOVEL out paths to everything myself (as I did for ten years in my first marriage).  Now, I have a husband who knows how to plow, use the tractor bucket, and actually cares LOL!  ;-)  Not saying you need a husband to move snow, though it does help haha!  We just open gates to pastures and plow out a path.  We move the horse trailer and plow it out before returning it to its spot.  Yes, it is a pain to move things around, but it is much less work and time than trying to dig everything out with a snow shovel. And it stays much better.  The one thing we do hire out is the salt/sanding, which we only do when it is truly icy.  Our driveway is steep and 1000+' long, so I much rather pay our excavation guy $40 a pop than deal with ice.  We also get salt/sand from the local town salt shed, and use it to liberally sand around the barn and gates where the sander cannot reach.  On average, I think we have hired out the salt/sanding about four times a winter, so that is doable.  For that price, it is not worth the hassle to us to buy our own sander.


Don't freak out
It's winter.  It's Maine.  It is always this cold and we all survive.  I have two FB friends who constantly post long, daily, drawn out diatribes about lugging water 100 miles uphill both way to the barn, setting alarms to wake up several times in the night to check on the horses, making mashes upon mashes for them to eat.  Now look, I know it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, but horses do not feel the cold like we do.  Granted, if a horse's immune system is already compromised, they may need such obsessive caretaking.  But I honestly think horses can go from 10PM nightcheck to 6AM feed time in the winter, even in seriously cold temps.  A hefty chunk of hay and fresh water will last.  And even if the water freezes by midnight and they don't drink until 6AM, they will be OK.  I am not a huge fan of constant bran mashes to "warm them up".  Yes, some horses benefit from water water added to their regular grain ration to help with water intake.

Own hardy horses
Haha this is kind of a joke, but I admit it does help to own Morgans and Standardbreds, who are generally hardy and grow winter coats like yaks.  ;-)  There are always exceptions to every rule, but I have been lucky to have horses who are hardy even in the worst temps.  Are they hardy because they naturally are or because I don't treat them like humans...???  ;-)



Invest in decent winter clothing
This is something I cannot emphasize enough, second only to LOTS OF HAY and provide water.  My winter uniform is Bogs boots, wool boot socks, silk long underwear, Carhartt lined coveralls, Turtle fleece neck warmer, wool hat, and Marmot gloves.  Generally the only uncovered section is my eyes haha!  Sometimes I add handwarmers on these super cold days to help my hands.  I always think I should invest in a pair of battery operated gloves, but then I never buy any LOL!  They would probably help me.  I tend to immediately get super cold when I first go outside, and once I start working (cleaning stalls, sweeping, throwing hay, whatever), then I warm up within about 15 minutes.  But until my body figures out how to regulate, I am in serious pain.  Once I warm up, I stay warm unless I start standing around, like when the farrier is here.  Sometimes I can warm back up by working again, but generally I need to come inside to warm up because my body just cannot handle it.  I am lucky to not have to work outside all day in bitter temps, but I do dress appropriately and it does help.  

If you board, appreciate your barn owner/manager
If you are lucky enough to board your horse and do not have to deal with any outside winter horsekeeping activities (well, for one I am jealous LOL), but honestly, be thankful.  Tell your barn owner/manager that you appreciate them.  Be helpful when you can.  Don't have a bad attitude if the driveway isn't immediately plowed out because they are too busy taking care of horses (or whatever more pressing need).  Be patient and realize that most decent boarding barns are trying their best to take care of your horse in extreme weather.

Spend winters in Florida
Kidding.  Sort of.

Or just buy your child lots of Thomas the Train tracks for Christmas and entertain yourself by filling your living room rug with them. This is pretty much what we have been doing in between chores and eating lots of Christmas treats LOL!
That is my best advice, as I sit here watching it snow YET AGAIN.  Isn't it too cold out there to snow?  Uggg.  Horsekeeping in winter really isn't as bad as we think, even though it is tough to remember that when we are in the throes of dealing with it haha.  Soon enough, everyone will shed out to their sleak summer coats and we will be riding at 8PM to avoid the heat and worst of the bugs.  (Though you will NEVER hear me complain about the heat!!)

Did I miss anything?  Any advice to add?  Don't rub it in if you live in a warm climate!  ;-)

Comments

TeresaA said…
Our fall was so nice and warm that I was hoping winter would not be this bad. This arctic freeze has been terrible. I use a water heater in the trough outside and it keeps it nice and clear of ice. I just read a post on a farm FB page that said if you put salt ad a bit water in a milk jug and put in the trough it won't freeze. That sounds like an easy experiment. I blanket my horses but that's because we get so much rain here in the winter that it's the only way to keep them dry. Otherwise I wouldn't blanket at all. Irish loses weight so easily that I try to tip the odds in my favour.

I always make sure that when we have snow that there's a path for the melt to go that is away from the barn. I am the queen of layers too. Also, if you have a tractor put one of those 'heat' cushions on it (like hunters use)- they really work well.

We will survive. I'm pretty sure.
All I could think while reading this was: I don't want to do any of it. I HATE being cold. I fully plan to complain a lot. But I'll also be investing in heated pipes and those expensive automatic waterers that don't freeze. Because there's literally no way I'm waking up at night to haul water to the barn. I'm not sure about the hardy horses thing though. Levi and Shasta don't grow any sort of winter coat. They're in for a rough awakening.
Martidoll said…
omg i feel for you all up there. It is pretty damn bad here (I rode yesterday and indoors i was FREEZING and my face hurt!) and now it is SNOWING here. WTF.. But our weather is nothing like yours. And we dont usually get this cold. I love your plan and Morgans are so hardy!! Remus does get blanketed here but he has an irish clip this year. Now last nite itw as 22 and going down fast when i got back and the barn was COLD (it usually isnt that cold) so I put his 100 gram liner on and his 100 gram amigo for the night so Shawn (Barn owner who i appreciate IMMENSELY!) doesnt have to swap in the am when she turns out. It is supposed to be pretty cold the next week here. UGH. At least our snow won't amount to much. Stay warm and stay safe!! (And what a great idea to pay someone to salt and sand! So worth it!!).
Sara said…
When I lived in WI it would get bitter cold and snowy and the horses did just fine. We’d blanket if it got in the single digits and the barn made their own round bales so the horses could stuff their faces all day long. The barn itself was an old dairy barn built half underground which was amazing. It stayed around 50F all year round.

I find myself babying my horses more here in the South than I ever did up north. They don’t grow as thick of a coat after four years of heat and I am quicker to put blankets on. Right now we are getting into the low 20s and teens at night which is unheard of here so they are getting blanketed at night.
We are surely a hardy (and foolish? haha) bunch! I have always wondered about the salt water milk jugs, but honestly it is just SO cold (-27 this morning at 6:30AM), that I don't think anything works. If you try it, be sure to let us all know!
Oh, friend, you and I can complain together! I can't wait to hear details on your plan!!! :-D Be warned, a friend just posted that her expensive automatic waterers have frozen solid. SOLID. Ugggg!!!
Yeah, I definitely have considered moving to the mid Atlantic area because winters are much more mild! But I am not quite ready to leave my family behind (maybe when I retire and the children are older haha). You stay warm as well! This is crazy winter weather! :-)
The barns built into hills are AWESOME. My grandfather's barn was like that and we never had frozen water buckets! If our land had been naturally set up for a barn structure like that, I would have totally built into the hill.
L.Williams said…
Ugh, I feel like I had never heard about reynauds before until I started blogging. CobJockey and Niamh both have it.
Ugggg it is the worst! Basically my doctor said the only way to truly manage it is to move to a warmer climate. :-/