Horse people are always eager to save money, especially if it can be done without sacrificing care for their horses. Few consider ways they’re losing money on feed.
Storing and feeding of hay is a major expense. Improper storage wastes hay due to mold, broken bales, and pests. Where possible keep hay off the ground – dampness often leads to losing most of the bottom layer of hay. If this can’t be done – invest in cheap stuff to lose to make up that bottom layer. This keeps your good hay from getting bad on the bottom. Be sure to watch also for leaks in the roof or moisture on the walls where it can make contact with the hay.
Feed hay wisely. In areas where hay has been hard to find many have taken to stretching their hay budget with other sources of fiber. Shredded beet pulp, hay cubes, and more turnout are just a few ways. Be sure to soak the beet pulp and drain, and many advise the same for hay cubes. Smaller horses especially and those with bad teeth have a hard time eating the cubes. Read the package directions – for an average horse only three pounds of cubes are needed! This is not very much..and much less than many feed. Using a couple pounds of cubes, a little beet pulp and good hay might be a ticket to a better conditioned horse. Feed hay in a corner or, if outside, in a clean dry place. Some use old tubs with holes drilled in the bottom so they don’t collect water. Keep the hay out of the mud and off of sandy areas, which can eventually lead to sand colic.
Storing and feeding grain is another way many lose money. A pile of bags is a mouse and rat buffet! Keep grain supplies stored in containers to keep bugs, mice, rats, cats, and anything else out of the grain. Keep it dry and invest in good quality. Avoiding water eliminates moldy spots on the bottom that have to be tossed.
Don’t overfeed! Most moderately active geldings do not need a 16% grain and alfalfa. Instead, consider the above hay regiment and a lower protein 10-11% which often is up to $5/bag cheaper. More importantly, the extra nutrition is wasted on horses that don’t need it to maintain themselves. Bred mares, working performance horses, breeding stallions, and other hard working animals can use a higher level of nutrition but for the average pleasure horse the lower protein better suits their needs.
Measure and weigh your feed. Don’t just toss a flake in – is that flake 8 pounds, 10 pounds, or 20 pounds? That coffee can might hold 3 pounds of one feed or another feed 8 pounds – either of these cases it’s a huge difference and can be a big waste of money as well as unhealthy for your horse. Weigh it – don’t guess. If your feed calls for three pounds, measure three pounds then find a container that holds what you’ve measure…this can save you time because you know then that one container of it is three pounds.
Supplements are often much overdone. A good quality feeding program most of the time means many supplements aren’t needed. However, there are areas that are low selenium, horses with joint issues, show or sale horses being conditioned, and other situations where supplements are needed. Keep them stored dry and cool near the feed. Keep the containers up off the ground to eliminate getting tipped over and wasted. MEASURE! Those that come with a scoop and advise feeding one scoop per day follow that advice. Feeding two scoops doesn’t give twice the benefit and in many cases is simply flushed through the horse’s system unused and, thus, a waste of money.
Consider pastures a new feed source. Seed them with nutritious grasses or a grass/legume mix. Soil test, fertilize, use weed control practices, and use those fields. A couple hours in a good pasture can do a horse wonders, save on the feed you need to buy, and provide a forage that you know for sure what is in it. Avoid turning horses out when it is very muddy, when frozen or when the weight of feet can tear up fields. Limit horses with caulks or other shoes that can damage fields to just an hour or so per day. By making use of the turnout pastures you can contribute positively to the horse’s diet and reduce your feed bill.
Purchase good quality hay and grain. Discounted feed that is riddled with bugs or contaminated is not a bargain! Hay with trash, weeds, and sticks in it is not a bargain. If there’s a choice between clean grass hay and trashy alfalfa, go with the clean grass. You can supplement, as above, with hay cubes (alfalfa), pellets, and other sources. Look closely at your feed. Evaluate if the horses are doing well on it.
If you’re not happy with how your horses look, if they have health issues or are less than efficient, make some changes in your feeding program. Consider that if you have Feed A that recommends feeding 10 pounds per day and is $5.75 per 50# bag that’s costing you $1.15/day. Feed B recommends feeding 3 pounds per day and is $10.95 per bag costs you would cost you relatively 66 cents per day to feed…and in the long run, is cheaper! It will also last you longer per bag.
Use your feed dollars wisely. Fat is not healthy. Obesity is as much a health risk as starvation…it shortens your horse’s life, it predisposes them to health issues and it’s killing them with kindness. Feed a good quality program on a regular schedule. Make the most of your feed dollars!
Use pasture as more than a grassy turnout – maintain it as the valuable resource that it can be.