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Safe grazing in winter

Horses need social contact, lots of exercise, light and fresh air. Generally speaking, this is made possible through exercise in open stables, on the pasture or on the paddock. In summer, it isn't a problem. But what happens to grazing in the winter?

Many horse farms close their pastures in winter so that they can recover for the next grazing season. They also do this to avoid damage caused by horses' hooves on softened ground, especially if the horses are shod. If you want to enable horses to graze despite wintry temperatures, you should bear in mind a few useful tips. Essentially, horses tolerate cold better than heat and they don't have any problems with below-zero temperatures if they have a thick winter coat.

Areas with a slight incline and dry, well-drained soil are generally best for winter grazing. Hillside pastures or areas that tend to become waterlogged are less suitable, or indeed completely unsuitable, since the grass cover can be damaged by the horses' hooves. In this case, grazing should only be considered in exceptional cases when the ground is frozen and there is complete snow cover. In addition to the usual maintenance measures, we recommend planning reseeding for stressed winter pastures in spring.

Fence monitoring is a must
Remember that white ropes and tapes are hard for horses to see in the snow.
Coloured tapes and wires offer a practical alternative. Pasture fences are also put under particular strain during the winter. When it snows, the snow falls on the electric tapes, making them heavier and causing them to stretch. As a result, wires and tapes need to be checked regularly and if necessary cleared of snow so that their ability to guard livestock remains intact. The guarding voltage may also need to be adjusted. Hardy breeds in particular develop a thick winter coat, so much so that the horse will barely notice the voltage that is normally sufficient in summer.

Winter check-up for the pasture fence

Pferdebetrieb spoke to Markus Öxle from AKO and asked the questions below to find out what the expert has to say about winter grazing:
How should you prepare fences for the cold season?

Generally speaking, conductive materials (especially steel wires, like the ones used in our electrifiable horse fence system "Premium Horse Wire") tend to contract at low temperatures. To avoid damage to conductive materials or insulators and to prevent excessive tensile forces on the posts, we recommend loosening any wire tensioners present or integrating temperature compensation springs at regular intervals into the fence system if necessary.

What should be borne in mind with regard to fences, e.g. for winter flocks, in regions with a lot of snowfall?

Since horses are animals that run when startled, they need to be able to see the fences well. Generally speaking, white fences (tapes and ropes) are harder for horses to see in snow and therefore no longer represent a clear visual barrier. Tapes and ropes with differently coloured identifying threads can provide a remedy for this problem. When using wide tapes, care must be taken to ensure that they are regularly cleared of snow and ice in order to prevent the conductive material from sagging and therefore leakage into the ground. If necessary, the fencing tape should be retightened accordingly. Care should also be taken to ensure that no snow builds up on the insulators since these can act as a "bridge" between the conductor material and the post, and therefore lead to leakage. A daily inspection patrol of your fence system if there is snowfall is therefore essential for ensuring the horses' safety.

The function of the electric fence must be checked every day at least once with a voltage measurement on the fence and should not be limited to a mere glance at any monitoring equipment connected to the electric fence. The voltage with normal soil at each point of the fence must be at least 2,000 V - and for dry soil in winter, it is better to be at least 3,000 Volt.

Does the earth connection need to be adapted to the low temperatures?

Compacted snow and ice are very poor conductors (too little moisture in the soil, similar to very dry soils in summer) and prevent electricity being able to flow unhindered via the ground rods to the device when the fence is touched. In winter, we therefore recommend increasing the number of ground rods. Attaching an additional "negative conductor" to the existing fence system is also a solution. This is connected to the fence device's earth connection and therefore serves as an "earthing channel" in the event of poorly conductive soil conditions.

What else needs to be borne in mind?

It is worth remembering that below-zero temperatures can result in a reduced capacity of the pasture fence batteries, therefore shortening the battery life. The battery charge level should therefore be checked on a regular basis when it is frosty.