The Value of a Horse Feed

On a recent visit to an area farm, the owner confided that she was considering making a feed change.  She said she did not have any problems with the current product she was using, but she thought she could go less expensive product since she was done showing for the season.

The current product she was feeding was $19.99 per 50lb bag.  She mentioned there was a local mill that had a feed for only $12.99, and the ingredients listed were the same.

I reviewed the tag with the customer and pointed out a few obvious differences.

  1. Feed ingredients are not listed on the tag in order of inclusion, like pet foods or foods for human consumption.
  2. Although the protein levels appeared to be the same, the bargain feed did not  guaranteed the amounts of limiting amino acids for the horse, lysine, methionine and threonine.
  3. The amount of vitamins and minerals were based on the proper feed rate for the horses weight.
  4. There was no mention of added biotin, prebiotics and probiotics, or chelating of vitamins and minerals.

We then did the math to see what she would save on 1 horse per day on the bargain feed.

Current Feed:   $19.99 /50lbs= $0.40 cents per pound

  • Feeding rate: 0.25 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight
  • 1200 x 0.25 = 3lbs per day
  • 3lbs x 0.40 = $1.20 per day

Bargain Feed:  $12.99/50 pounds= $0.26 cents per pound

  • Feeding Rate: 1%-2% Of Horse Body Weight per day for Maintenance
  • 1200 x 1.0 % = 12lbs per day
  • 12lbs x 0.26 = $3.12@ day
  • But it could go as high as 2% feed rate!
  • 1200 x 2.0% = 24lbs per day
  • 24lbs x 0.26 cents = $6.24 PER DAY!!

So, $1.20 per day vs.  $3.12 to $6.24 per day.  The value feed would cost an additional $1.92 -$5.04 per day to maintain a 1200 pound horse based on the manufacturer’s recommendations for a 1200 pound maintenance level horse.

The current feed was indeed a better value!  Now, this may be an extreme difference, but it does pay in the end to always do the math, even if the feeding rates or prices aren’t so different.  And don’t forget to factor in the value of additional things found in higher priced feeds such as prebiotics, probiotics, and biotin, that might not necessarily be reflected in the feeding rates.

Ration Balancers vs Regular Horse Feeds

Gayle shows off her horse, IM ALittle Too Kool~ who is in wonderful condition thanks to a very well balanced diet!

I recently received a call from a horse owner that said she needed to put her horse on a diet. Her 1000 pound mare is a body condition score of 7. Her vet had recommended she put the mare on a ration balancer. When she priced products at the local feed store she thought that the price of a balancer was too high. Since her mare has free access to pasture, she felt that 1 pound a day of an economy feed would be good, with a few supplements. She was wonder what supplements would be best for her mare?

I told her she was on the right track to reduce the horse’s calories, but there was an easier way to put the mare on a healthy diet. I pointed out that the feed tag on the product she was feeding had a feeding rate of 0.5 pounds of feed for every 100 pounds of body weight. So, for her mare to get the proper fortification of vitamins and minerals listed on the tag, she would need 5 pounds per day.

Cutting the ration down to only 20% of the required feed rate and adding supplements could get costly, as well as establishing an imbalance in micro and macro minerals. I suggested she consider a ration balancer. The concentrated nutrient levels allow for low feeding rates. A good quality balancer will contain prebiotics and probiotics to help support nutrient digestion. They will also feature guaranteed levels of biotin to support muscle, hair coat and hoof development. In addition they will also have guaranteed levels of amino acids to support muscle maintenance and development. Not to mention that a quality balancer will also use organic trace mineral complexes to increase bioavailability and protein utilization.

When we compared the balancer to top dressing the economy feed, the balancer was a much better value on a cost per day basis.  That’s why it’s always important to do the “cost per day” math, rather than getting fixated on the price tag on the bag, and remember to include the cost of supplements needed if a lower-quality, less expensive feed is being investigated.

Horse Feed: More Than Just Percentages

A hanging scale, such as this (dirty) one is helpful to hang a bucket from and weigh feed. Note that the scale has been tared for a bucket.

Horse owners frequently compare feeds based primarily on the information on the feed tag or supporting data from web sites.  While this is a quick comparison to make, it may not always be the best comparison.  Why, you ask? Well, what is most important to the horse is the total amount they actually consume.  To get this number, the percentage in the feed must be multiplied by the amount fed, making sure to account for different unit of measurements, such as supplements that are fed in ounces instead of pounds.

One example where this is important is with the protein percentage.  As ration balancer horse feed products are becoming more and more popular, some folks see that they typically have 30% protein or more, and worry that the level is way too high for a horse.  But with a ration balancer, a 1000 lb horse only gets 1-2 pounds of the product a day, compared to 4-6 lbs of a more traditional 12% feed.  So, if we do the math, here’s what we see:

  • 30% protein X 2 lbs of feed = 0.6 lbs of protein a day from a ration balancer
  • 12% protein X 5 lbs of feed = 0.6 lbs of protein in a day from a traditional feed

Another example where this calculation is useful is in the variety of fat supplements available on the market today. 

  • A powdered fat supplement has 99% fat, being fed at a rate of 2 oz a day, adds 0.124 lbs of fat to the daily diet.
  • A stabilized rice bran supplement that has 22% fat, fed at a rate of 2 lbs per day, adds 0.44 lbs of fat to the daily diet.

And of course, on top of this, we must ALWAYS remember to factor in the hay – not just the grain.  A horse will consume much more hay per day than grain, so the difference in a few percentage points is magnified when looking at the hay portion of the diet.  It may take a little math, but looking beyond the percentage of a particular nutrient is something your horse would thank you for if he could speak!