Keep an Eye on Horse-Feeding CostsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 16, 2015
Properly nourishing a horse requires a commitment of resources. Feed-related costs account for at least one-third of annual expenses associated with horse ownership. Top-notch nutrition doesn’t need to be a drain on the pocketbook, however. Careful planning can keep your feed budget in the black and your horse in tip-top shape.
An accurate inventory of any horse’s ration, as well as general feeding practices, might reveal ways to pare down costs.
- Forage first. Pasture remains the least expensive forage option, so it should be used advantageously. In certain seasons, pasture can supply all forage needs. Other times, hay must be fed. While all hay should be free of dust, mold, and foreign material, not all horses require top-of-the-line hay. Instead, choose a hay appropriate for individual horses. Easy keepers can typically maintain their weight on mid-quality hay, and this hay will usually be less expensive than premium forage. Feed only as much hay as the horse will eat. Use haynets or feeders to keep loose hay from becoming mixed with bedding. Forage is essential for gastrointestinal health, but feeding excess only costs money. Developing a relationship with a hay grower and purchasing hay out of the field is another way to keep forage costs low.
- Concentrate considerations. Believe it not, there is a wide range of horse feeds available, and predictably, a broad spectrum of quality among those feeds exists. Do not scrimp on concentrates, as a well-formulated feed, such as those produced by KER partners, provides all of the protein, vitamins, and minerals required for optimal health. Follow the manufacturer’s feeding directions by feeding at least the recommended amount, but don’t feed more than necessary to maintain moderate body condition. Overfeeding concentrates puts a wallop on the wallet and usually ends in obesity, which is detrimental to horses for it predisposes to unsoundness, exercise intolerance, and metabolic problems. In young horses, overfeeding concentrates can trigger growth problems such as physitis. Losing feed to rodents or wandering wildlife? Concoct a failsafe way to keep unwanted guests out of feed storage. Not only will this eliminate wasted feed but also reduce disease spread.
- Smart supplementation. Supplements have become a fact of life in many modern horse-feeding schemes, and rightly so, as these specialized products have improved the lives of countless horses. When it comes time to tighten the belt, though, supplements might be the first place to look for overages. For instance, an equine nutritionist can help determine if you’re overfeeding vitamins and minerals through unwarranted supplementation, which is often the case when a horse is being fed a full measure of fortified feed and then having it top-dressed with a vitamin and mineral product. Oversupplementation saps a horse-keeping budget and may compromise a horse’s health.
- Health check. Horses derive greatest benefit from any diet when they are otherwise healthy. Vaccination and deworming schedules should be adhered to, as should annual dental examinations. Adequate exercise, with or without a rider, will also contribute to well-being.
Keeping expenses in check requires periodic review of horse-feeding practices and provides the perfect opportunity to reset nutritional goals for individual horses. One-on-one consultation with an equine nutritionist is a great place to start. As always, it is best to be upfront about a realistic budget.