Winter is in full force, and horse owners need to make sure their animals stay warm, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service equine specialist Carrie Hammer, DVM, PhD.

Horse owners have several ways to do that. One of them is giving the horses shelter.

“Horses have a wonderful ability to survive in the cold,” Hammer said. “A full winter haircoat is perfect for insulating the horse against the cold winter weather. However, that insulation is lost if the haircoat gets wet. Providing shelter allows the horse to stay dry on wet, snowy days and, ultimately, allows them to stay warm.”

Another way to keep horses warm is to feed them hay. Heat is produced through the digestion of feed and can be useful in helping a horse maintain body temperature in cold winter weather. The greatest amount of heat is released when microbes in the gut digest high-fiber feeds such as hay. In cattle, this process is going on in the rumen; in horses, the process occurs in the cecum and large colon.

High-fiber feeds produce more heat during digestion than low-fiber feeds. Thus, digestion of hay will result in the release of more heat than low-fiber grains, such as corn and barely. Although oats are a low-fiber grain, they will produce more heat during digestion, compared with other grains, due to their fibrous