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Maximising Hindgut Health in Winter

Your horse’s hindgut and associated microbiome is pivotal to their health and needs to be kept happy and healthy all year round whatever the season. In winter the noticeable drop in temperature brings with it a loss of nutrients from grass and the potential need to replace what is missing through feed, leading to changes in your horse’s diet and routine which can have a significant impact on the health and integrity of their hindgut.

In our latest technical blog Lisa Elliott, MSc – Equine Nutrition Solutions shares some essential tips and guidance to help maximise your horse’s hindgut health throughout the winter months:

Provide ad-lib good-quality forage

Forage should always be the foundation of your horses’ diet, which during the winter can be provided as hay or haylage. Forage quality can vary greatly, so it is important to ensure you are feeding the best quality you can find.

The fibre in forage gets broken down through a process of fermentation by billions of microbes in the hindgut, collectively known as the hindgut microbiome. which provides a source of energy for the horse for work and condition, but also releases heat, keeping your horse warm from the inside out. This central heating will help maintain condition and the better quality of the forage; the more heat is generated.

Plenty of good-quality forage in winter helps keep the digestive tract functioning well and keeps those all-important hindgut microbes who thrive on fibre, happy and healthy, and the healthier the microbes the healthier your horse will be too.

To maximise hindgut health and good condition through the winter, forage should be fed on a truly ad-lib basis so that your horse has constant access to it. If your horse is stabled for longer periods during the winter, then the use of slow feeders and double hay nets can help ensure that forage is always available on an ad-lib basis. Additionally, if your horse is turned out during the winter then putting hay or haylage out in the field will also help to ensure they have access to a continuous supply for optimum hindgut health.

Increase water intake

Water is the most important nutrient in your horses’ diet, but horses are naturally inclined to drink less during the winter. Water is key for a healthy hindgut because it helps stimulate gut motility and keeps the hindgut contents hydrated, helping to reduce the risk of colic. Making sure your horse drinks enough water is ,therefore, essential.

Water troughs and buckets can become frozen when the temperature drops, so making sure ice is broken regularly in winter is essential. Adding hot water to warm the water above freezing, has been shown to increase water consumption by 40%. So, think about warming your horse’s water (ideally to between 7 – 18⁰C) to help increase drinking over the winter months for maximum hydration. Adding salt to your horses feed can also help promote drinking and increase hydration for optimal hindgut health.

Minimise Starch

Horses that are struggling to hold weight and condition during the winter will often need extra feed but to keep their hindgut healthy its important to keep starch from cereals to a minimum. Horses have a limited capacity to digest starch in the small intestine. Undigested excess starch from cereals can reach the hindgut and cause imbalances in the microbiome, leading to microbial dysbiosis which can result in hindgut acidosis Hindgut acidosis is a consequence of the rapid growth of certain types of lactic acid producing bacteria. The increased lactic acid causes a drop in pH and results in a more acidic environment. and this can lead to inflammation of the hindgut membrane and potentially laminitis or colic.

If your horse’s condition and work level mean they need more energy or ‘calories’ than forage alone can provide, it’s best to supply that through sources of highly digestible fibre like unmolassed sugar beet or grass chop and pellets. When additional energy is required, this can also be supplied through sources of oil such as linseed meal. To help maintain a healthy hindgut, fibre should always be the first choice and controlled amounts of cereals should only be fed when the nature of the horse’s work demands it. If cereals are needed, oats are often a better choice for hindgut health as they contain fibre which supports beneficial microbes and are the most easily digested, reducing the chance of excess undigested starch reaching the hindgut and causing dysbiosis within the microbiome.

Make all dietary changes gradually

If your horse needs extra feed to maintain condition during the winter, make sure any dietary changes happen very gradually to help prevent digestive upset. Ideally changes should be made over 2-3 weeks, introducing the new feed very slowly to allow the gut microbes time to adjust and maintain a healthy hindgut throughout.

Promote Microbial Health and Diversity

Research has indicated that the equine hindgut microbiome contains a diverse range of bacterial species. This diversity is associated with a healthy microbiome, with a loss in diversity being linked to digestive disease and upset. A diverse diet promotes a diverse microbiome, which in turn promotes a healthy hindgut, and a healthy hindgut = a healthy horse.
Feeding more varied forages, like mixed meadow hay, haylage and chopped meadow grass during winter when horses are stabled more, will create more forage diversity to help promote a rich, diverse hindgut microbial population and optimise your horses’ hindgut health.

You can also increase diversity within your horse’s hindgut throughout the winter by feeding a mixed-herb supplement like Pure Paddock Essential Mix. This hindgut friendly, herbal blend contains a diverse range of natural herbs to promote diversity within the hindgut microbiome and support optimum hindgut health.

Additionally, the herbs within Pure Paddock Essential Mix provide feed to stimulate key beneficial hindgut microbes, and further support hindgut health, integrity and overall immunity through winter and beyond.

For more information on creating, restoring, and maintaining species-rich pasture for horses visit www.magnificantmeadows.org.uk.

What can you do next?

Click below to order your sample of The Essential Mix and start improving your horses’ hindgut health today!

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