Group Feeding Tips for Small Facilities

Feeding TimeWe are a far cry from a fancy operation with four horses on my property to manage.  The horses in our herd live outside in one of two paddocks with fulltime access to a run-in shed which is divided in half.  They get rotational turn out onto the pasture whenever possible.

With the variety of horses we have, our little operation is anything but simple.  And oh how they vary!  One is a 32-year-old hard keeping Arabian mare with a princess complex who has progressively lost dentition efficacy in the last few years.  Next is her 14-year-old gelding son who is an air fern, aka quite possibly the world’s easiest keeper.  Finally the two Warmblood geldings, half-brothers both in light work.  One is a 16 hand, 10-year old fair doer while his brother (12 years) just under 16 hands, tends to be higher strung and a notch or two closer to being a hard keeper than his half-brother.

We feed good quality grass hay in small squares as we don’t have the storage space, equipment or desire to feed rounds. With these parameters, in combination with our variety of personalities, feeding time can be quite….interesting.  Over time, we’ve developed some strategies for making this living arrangement work.  Here’s a few you might consider if you have a similar herd situation:

  • Divide your herd by feeding needs and behaviors
  • Separate the bully of the herd.
  • If possible, put harder keepers with harder keepers, easy keepers with other easy keepers.
  • Keep an eye over time as the herd dynamics shift, the bullies can easily become bullied and go from ideal weight to underweight if you’re not checking regularly.
  • Check body condition score on a regular basis and be prepared to move horses around if dietary needs change.
  • Provide at least as many feeders as there are horses.  More if you can. Divide the ration of hay evenly among them.  This allows those who are bullied by others the chance to get what they need.
  • While on pasture, use a grazing muzzle on the easy keepers so that the harder keepers can have sufficient time with the forage.
  • When it comes to feeding concentrate, use paddock, pasture, round pens, arena etc.  to separate the herd.  This way, those who need a different feed type (example: ration balancer versus a senior feed) can get what they need and have time to eat it.
  • If you don’t have facilities to separate during the time to feed concentrate, consider guarding the slower eater so they can get sufficient time to eat their full ration. This may add time to the chore schedule, but it will help to ensure all horses are meeting their unique nutritional needs.

Keeping multiple horses with a variety of nutritional needs in a smaller space can be a challenge.  But with a little creativity and the right tools, you can be assured everyone gets what they need.  What ideas do you have to manage the variety of horses in your herd?

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.

Following Feeding Recommendations

Is anyone taking a road trip this summer? Chances are, if you are heading somewhere in your car you will probably consult a road map or at least plug the destination into your GPS or smart phone. We do this so we can get where we want to go and do what we have planned. The same can be said for directions on horse feeding. They help us get our horse in the condition we want him to be so that we can do the events or activities that made us get a horse in the first place.

We have a pretty good road map attached to every bag of horse feed that is purchased.  Feed tags not only list ingredients & guaranteed analysis, they also give detailed directions for feeding.  The normal result of shortcuts during a road trip is usually being somewhere you don’t want to be. With your horse, taking shortcuts when it comes to feeding rates can mean a horse who is underweight or overweight, getting too much or being fed insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, among other issues.

My challenge to you is this – look at your feed tag and consider the following:

After you establish the above items…

  • Is the amount I am giving my horse within the tagged recommendations according to weight and activity level?
  • Am I feeding to accomplish something with my horse? (ie: weight gain or weight loss, lactation, etc.)

If you are in the parameters set by your feed tag on what you are giving your horse, good for you! If you are not, you need to ask some follow up questions:

  • Am I willing/able to change my feeding to match what the tag recommends? If the answer is no, then the question becomes:
  • Am I willing to change my horse’s feed to match how I am feeding him?

Many times we continue to do something just because it is what we’ve always done. By answering the questions above, it may become clear to you that your best feeding option may be changing feeds. Sometimes, this may mean switching to a feed with a lower feeding rate and higher fortification in order to accurately meet your horse’s needs (for example if you are currently underfeeding a senior horse).  Other times, you may find that you don’t really have an easy keeper – you are just feeding him a bit too much. Don’t neglect the feeding directions on your feed tag – they are the road map for a long, healthy life for your horse.

Reading Horse Feed Directions – How Much to Feed?

When horse feeds are formulated, they are developed to provide nutrition to all sizes of horses – nutrient needs go up as the size of the horse goes up.  So, feeding directions are often provided in the following format:

  • Activity Level                   Lbs of feed per 100 lbs of bodyweight
  • Maintenance                     0.3-0.5
  • Light Exercise                   0.4-0.6

So, how do you figure out how much to feed your horse? Start with knowing the weight of your horse.  Then, divide that weight by 100, and then multiply the result by both of the amounts of feed given in the directions above.  The resulting two numbers will tell you the range of how much to feed your horse to give them the nutrition they need for both their size and their activity level.

Example Feeding Directions:

1200 lb horse, in light exercise.

  1. (1200 ÷ 100) = 12
  2. (12 × 0.4) = 4.8
  3. (12 × 0.6) = 7.2

In this example, this horse would need to eat between 4.8 and 7.2 lbs per day of this feed to receive the nutrition he needs.  Some horses that are easier keepers can fall to the lower end of the range, while harder keepers may need to push the upper limit.

If you do this math for your horse, and find that you are feeding outside of the designated range, you should search for a feed that is more suitable to your horses needs.  Hard keepers, for example, may require a feed that is higher in calories per pound, while easier keepers might require a feed with fewer calories and more concentrated levels of vitamins and mineralsSuch a feed might cost more per bag, however the ability to pack more punch in a smaller feeding might actually result in a cost saving!