It’s possible to reduce feed costs and still meet your horse’s nutritional requirements. Learn a few equine feed management practices and your horse will be well fed and healthy…and you’ll have a few bucks left in your pocket.
Good quality forage should be the basis of your feeding program. Your horse evolved as a grazing animal, and her digestive system is designed for forage. All horses should get at least 1 percent of their body weight in hay or pasture each day.
Forage will reduce feed costs in several ways:
Daily horse care savings: Pasture is less expensive than grain. Most mature horses can meet their maintenance requirements on good quality forage alone, without additional grain.
Equine veterinary costs: Roughage adds bulk to the diet and slows the rapid fermentation of grains in the gut which may decrease the risk of colic and laminitis.
Horse facility maintenance: Horses with enough forage are less likely to chew fences and stalls.
Other ways to save on horse feed include:
Bulk Up: When buying hay, buy in bulk if possible. Compare the cost of hay per ton versus the cost per bale. Be sure you’re able to store the hay correctly to preserve the quality and reduce waste. This is a great way to reduce feed costs if you have the right facilities.
The Good Stuff: Buy hay by weight and be sure it’s the best quality horse hay available. Good quality hay usually is green, has a soft texture, and is free of dust, mold, and weeds. Test horse hay before purchasing to ensure its nutritive value. Better hay may cost a little more, but you’ll reduce feed costs by feeding less.
The Fine Print: Read the guaranteed analysis on your feed label and know what you’re getting. Sometimes a feed will exceed the nutritional requirements of your horse and you’ll be wasting money on nutrients your horse doesn’t need.
The label should list the percentages of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum percent crude fiber. The more crude fiber a feed contains, the less carbohydrates it will provide. Feeds with a high crude fat content are usually more expensive. But fats provide more energy than carbohydrates, so you may reduce feed costs by feeding less and getting the same value.
Balanced vs. Complete: Feed that is labeled “Balanced” contains all the nutrients need for its stated purpose (lactation, growth, etc.). It assumes you will be adding hay/pasture and water. Feeds that are labeled “Complete” are formulated to be the only nutrient source except for water. Be aware that “complete” feeds contain fiber but your horse should still get 1 percent of her body weight in roughage each day to keep her digestive tract functioning.
Supplemental Savings: Save money on supplements. If your feed is balanced or complete and your horse is healthy, she probably doesn’t need extra nutrients. Your horse will just excrete excess nutrients. And some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in large amounts.
Feed The Horse, Not The Worms: Deworm regularly, usually on 8 week intervals. Parasitic infections can rob your horse of vital nutrients, requiring more food to combat the loss. Talk to your vet about the best program for your horse.
Chew On This: Keep your horse’s teeth in good shape. A regular schedule of equine dental care helps your horse chew properly and efficiently and reduces dropped and wasted feed. The cost of a visit from an equine dentist is offset in feed savings.
Individual Preferences: If you feed horses in groups, try to use individual feeders. Ideally, provide an extra feeder in case the more timid horses get pushed away. Scatter the feeders in the pasture to prevent bullying.
Feed To Maintain: If the more dominant horses are getting too much and the timid horses are getting too little, your feed dollars aren’t being used efficiently. It’s less expensive (and healthier) to maintain a horse’s body weight rather than feeding to increase or reduce weight.
Weigh Your Feed: Measure horse feeds by weight, not volume. This reduces waste and increases consistency. Different grains have different weights and nutritive value by volume. When changing feeds, always do so gradually to reduce digestive problems.
One Last Tip: Feed frequently and at regular time intervals. Large grain meals can easily overwhelm your horse’s digestive tract. If your horse needs more than 8 pounds of grain in any one meal, split it into two feedings.
It’s easy to think that “more is better” when it comes to feeding and caring for your horse, but that’s not always the case. A sensible, balanced approach to nutrition and horse care is an efficient, effective way to improve your horse’s health.