Making Cents Out of Horse Feed Costs

I was recently called to a boarding and lesson barn to help the owner evaluate her feed program.  With the rising costs of bedding, labor, insurance, electricity and hay, she wanted to look at options at saving money. 

The farm housed about 40 Thoroughbreds.   Twelve of the horses were active in a lesson program, and the other horses activity levels ranged from pleasure maintanece to moderate work/show.   The Body Condition Scores of the horses ranged from 4 to 6, and the owner explained that some of the horses were harder keepers than others, with daily grain intake ranging from 1 to 18 pounds of grain per day per horse.

We examined the hay and found it to be a good quality timothy grass mix.  The horses were getting about 1.5% of their body weight per day in hay. For grain, she was using an economy feed that was priced at $8.99 per bag.  She felt that with the large number of horses on the farm and rising cost she could not afford the premium feeds that were almost $14 per bag.

When we examined the feed tag from the manufacturer, the suggested feed rate was 1 pound per hundred pounds of body weight (that’s 10 lbs of feed for a 1000 lb horse!), and the fortification of the product was minimal.  The owner then explained that she and the boarders did purchase supplements to provide added biotin, yeast culture, copper, zinc and selenium.  Some of the hard keepers were also given a fat supplement.

To determine how much she was spending on feed, we did the following math:

  • Current Feeding Program = 10 lbs feed + supplements
    • ~ $8.99 per bag / 50 lbs per bag = $0.18 per pound
    • ~ $0.18 per pound X average 10 lb per day feeding = $1.80 per day per horse
    • ~ Plus the various costs of nutritional supplements to make up for the lack in feed
  •  
  • Proposed Feeding Program = 5 lbs feed + no supplements
    • ~ $14.00 per bag / 50 lbs per bag = $0.28 per pound
    • ~ $0.28 per pound X average 5 lb per day feeding = $1.40 per day per horse
    • ~ No need for nutritional supplements!

When we calculated the cost per horse per day based on feed consumption and supplements, some of the horses exceeded $3 per day!  When we compared that to the feed rates on the premium line feeds, not to mention complete fortification levels and the time savings in not having to sort out servings of supplements every day, the premium feed was a better value in the long run.

Storing Horse Feed for Freshness

Welcome to July!  We are in the full swing of summer with heat and humidity in many regions of North America.  The higher temperature and moisture levels common this time of year can make feed freshness a challenge, requiring extra attention to how feed is stored.  Read on for a few tips on storing horse feed for freshness, and see how well your barn is set up to store feed. 

Many of us purchase feed by the bag and transfer the contents into a container which is kept in a feed room or designated area of the barn or shed.  The container that feed is kept in as well as the location of the container play an important role in how well the feed stays fresh. 

If possible, use of a waterproof, seal-able container to store your feed.  The container should be able to keep pests such as mice and insects from enjoying an “All You Can Eat Buffet” on your dime.  A waterproof container will insure the feed stays dry if there is unexpected water leakage into the area.

The location that the feed bin or container is kept is also important.  If you have a designated feed room or area in your facility, check to see that it is not exposed to unnecessary moisture such as a leak in the roof or sweating pipes overhead.  Elevating the bin off the floor will help keep feed dry should there be rain-in or minor flooding.  Also, check to see if your feed bin is sitting in the hottest part of your barn or shed.  For metal sided buildings, this could be the South or West wall which receive the strongest of the sun’s rays and tend to hold heat longer.  Relocating the bin to a cooler or dryer area will go a long way in keeping your feed fresh. 

Whenever possible, try to practice inventory management of feed in the form of FIFO; an acronym which stands for First In First Out.  FIFO is a method to manage the freshness of perishable goods such as produce, baked goods or dairy products.  The premise can also be applied to feed, where feed already in the bin is fed prior to the feed that was just purchased.  Also, between feed rotations, periodically wash and thoroughly dry the container to help get rid of build-up at the bottom.  Using this method can ensure that the feed you are scooping has not aged beyond its ideal shelf life.  

Taking some time to check these few steps will go a long way in keeping your horse feed fresh. Stay tuned for a future post regarding factors that impact the shelf life of your feed! Until then, happy riding!

Feeding the “Easy Keeper” Horse

Most every horse owner has had, or knows of a friend’s horse, which could “live on air”. Sadly, air has no nutritional value. So, what do we do with these horses that look at a bag of feed and start to pack on the pounds? Care must be taken to ensure that they receive nutrients needed to stay healthy, while keeping calorie count under control.

As always, start by taking a Body Condition Score and determining the current weight of the horse, and tracking those two elements over time, so you can know for sure if you are making progress or not. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of trying to remember what the horse was like a couple months ago, so a tracking program will help give a fact basis to your feeding program.

Ensure that the easy keeper is receiving sufficient forage – maintaining gut health through plenty of long-stemmed fiber intake is key. Then, evaluate what else to feed – often times, access to high quality hay or pasture that contains ALL of the nutrition a horse needs is limited, and the need exists to get more protein, vitamins and minerals in to the horse. There are a number of low-inclusion horse feed products on the market that provide needed nutrition without extra calories.

Finally, evaluate the exercise program. Just like humans, exercise goes hand-in-hand with diet in a weight loss or weight control program. Even a daily walking program can help some of those easier keepers maintain a trimmer profile.

Feeding Horses that are Hard Keepers

Much like teenage boys, some horses seem to be able to devour every bit of feed in sight, and still not gain weight. Unlike the teenage boys, however, and unfortunately for the owners of these hard keepers, this generally isn’t just a stage that the horse is going through. So, what is the best way to feed a horse to increase weight gain to the desired level, and then maintain it there?

First, start by taking a Body Condition Score and determining the current weight of the horse, and tracking those two elements over time, so you can know for sure if you are making progress or not. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of trying to remember what the horse was like a couple months ago, so a tracking program will help give a fact basis to your feeding program.

Second, weigh both the hay and any grain you are feeding your horse. A bathroom scale can do the trick, or especially handy is a fish or luggage scale that you can hang a bucket from. Every barn has a different scoop, from the old reliable coffee can to a plastic scoop purchased at the feed store. Weighing the scoop, then weighing it with the feed in it, allows you to mark your scoop so you can see where to fill it to for various feeds & weights of that feed. Note that not all feeds weigh the same, either, so measure each one independently.

Third, ensure that the horse is receiving enough forage in the diet. This is the base of any feeding program, and a good target is to be feeding 1.5% of body weight in forages. For a 1000 lb horse, that means at least 15 lbs of hay. Weigh a few flakes of hay and see just what a flake is from your supplier. Not all small square bales are created equally!

Fourth is the grain portion of the diet. A key thing to look at in evaluating feeds for hard keepers is the “Crude Fat” content of a feed. A basic corn/oats/mineral sweet feed mix will likely run around 2.5-3.0% fat, since that is what is naturally present in a lot of grains. These are fine for easier keepers, but many active horses need more – there are a variety of horse feeds on the market today that are in the 6-7% fat range, and a few horse feeds even reach up to the 12% fat range. Remember to feed within the guidelines printed on the tag, so that you get the nutrition portion of the diet correct. Start your horse on a higher fat diet slowly to allow them to adjust to the increased fat, and work up to a level where the weight starts to come on. Once you’ve reached a desirable weight and body condition, you can begin to back off the amount fed until you determine the amount of feed that will help maintain your horse for the long haul.

How to track your horse’s Body Condition Score

While knowing your horse’s weight is critical to making sure your horse is receiving the care it needs, tracking your horse’s Body Condition Score over time is an ideal (and easier) way to make sure your horse is doing as well as you want him to.

Developed through extensive research by Texas A&M, the Body Condition Score (BCS) is measured on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being “Poor” and 9 being “Extremely Fat”. Click here to download a chart describing each of the scores, along with a tracking form for your use.

You can easily determine your horse’s BCS by looking at the amount of fat deposited in six key areas of your horse’s body:

  1. Along the neck
  2. Along the withers
  3. Crease along the back
  4. Over the ribs
  5. Behind the shoulder
  6. Over the tailhead

As a general rule of thumb, growing and performance horses, as well as general-use horses, should be kept at a BCS of 4-7, with a 5 being “ideal”.  Broodmares should generally be kept at a 5.5-7.5.

Learning how to assign a Body Condition Score may take a little practice, and what you call a 4.5 might be a 5 to your neighbor, but what is most important to your own herd is that you assign scores to each horse, then track them over time to ensure that everyone is receiving all the care they need.

For your reference, here is a quick “how-to” video:

How to weigh your horse without a scale

Knowing the weight of your horse is important for several things, such as feeding properly, administering medications or dewormer paste, and generally tracking the health of your horse.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have access to scales big enough for a horse, so most horse owners end up using a traditional weight tape to measure their horse. While better than nothing, using a weight tape to measure your horse can be somewhat inaccurate at best. So, what’s a horse owner to do?

Try this: Using a seamstress tape, measure the length of your horse, and then around their girth, all in inches. Put those measurements in to this formula:

(Heartgirth x heartgirth x body length) / 330 = Weight of horse

If you have a mature horse, use that “330” number. If you have a yearling, use “301”, and if you have a weanling, use “280.” And last but certainly not least – have a pony?  Use “299” to get the right weight.

To see a demonstration, watch our YouTube video on how to measure your horse without a scale:

To download printable versions of the formula for calculating the weight of your horse without a scale, click here.

How to feed HYPP Horses: Potassium is key

The main dietary goal in managing an HYPP (Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis) horse is keeping total dietary potassium under 1.0%. It is key to look at the total dietary potassium instead of just the hay or just the grain source.

To figure out total dietary potassium (or any other nutrient level), use the following formula:

((Pounds of hay x percent potassium in hay) + (Pounds of grain x percent potassium in grain)) / Total pounds of feed.

For example, if you are feeding 15 lbs a day of a grass hay that measures 1.0% potassium, along with 6 lbs a day of a grain mix that measures 0.8% potassium, then your calculations would be as follows:

((15 x 0.01) + (6 x 0.008)) / 21 = 0.942% total dietary potassium.

Find out the potassium of your hay source, and of your grain, and then you can figure out your horse’s total dietary potassium level.