Horses are expensive. Now that we have the obvious out of the way, let’s get down to business. What are some of the ways you can save money on equine feed while still giving your horse the nutrition he or she needs?
Horses can consume over 3% of their bodyweight per day in feed and forage. For a 500 kg horse (1100 lb), which we will be our reference throughout, that’s 15 kg (33 lbs)/day. At 35 cents a kilogram for hay, forage alone would cost over $150 per month. As they say, ‘there is no such thing as a free horse’.
For all the pedant’s out there, 2% of bodyweight is the number most used to estimate a horse’s intake and is a good average to work from. Still, intake is highly variable and dictated by many factors other than body weight.
There are no magic solutions for reducing the cost of purchased forage, realistically in most parts of North America, it is relatively inexpensive. The Floridians will be howling at that comment! Pasture may represent the single biggest cost savings to horse owners managing them properly can save you a pile of money!
Techniques such as strip grazing (usually reserved for sheep and cattle), rotating paddocks and having a sacrifice paddock to rest pastures, can greatly enhance the productivity of pasture. If managed like a viable source of feed, it can improve the health and well-being of your horse and your pocketbook.
There are drawbacks to fresh grass, particularly for sedentary, overweight or metabolic horses.
High Cost of Commercial Horse Feed
Generally, the next largest cost comes in a shiny bag from your local feed dealer – commercial horse feed. The industry has exploded in the last 25 years – long gone are the days of the 100 lbs sacks of mill mix that cost a fraction of what today’s much smaller more refined options cost.
Commercial horse feeds seem like a convenient option for most horse owners, because they are specifically formulated for horses, therefore must contain everything their horse needs; right? Well, sort of. Most commercial feeds are formulated to be fed at 3 kg (6.6 lbs) to 5 kg (11 lbs) per day.
This means if feeding less than 3 kg, some of the mineral and vitamin levels in the diet will still be deficient.
In a diet evaluation study conducted in 2018, 200 equine diets were completely analyzed (Bruggink et al., 2018 unpublished). In excess of 90% of those diets were found to be deficient in at least one major trace mineral or vitamin, with the vast majority of those horses being fed commercial grain mixes to supplement their forage program.
How much does having an imbalanced ration cost? There are few commercial horse feeds that cost less than $1/kg, so that is anywhere from $30 to $150 per month, depending on the feeding rate and you still don’t have a balanced ration in many cases.
Hay or pasture contains all the above, but unfortunately, not all nutrients are found at adequate levels or in the correct balance.
If the forage does not provide adequate protein or calories, then any of the following can be added at a much lower cost than commercial horse feed. Prices are estimates and will vary significantly.
Low-Cost Feeds to Supplement your Horse’s Diet
Feeds to increase the energy density of diet:
- Soyhulls $0.35/kg
- Beet Pulp $0.80/kg
- Vegetable oil $1.50/L
- Oats $0.35/kg
- Wheat Shorts $0.30/kg
- Flax $0.70/kg
- Dried distillers grains $0.30/kg
Feeds to increase protein density of diet:
- Soybean meal $0.75/kg
- Whole Roasted Soybean $0.85/kg
- Flax or linseed meal – $0.70/kg
- Dried distillers’ grains – $0.30/kg
- Canola meal $0.60/kg
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but just an example of a few options out there. These are all mass-produced commodity ingredients, hence the low cost. They may not seem as exotic as – say – copra meal brought from distant lands or chia seeds, but we need to look past the marketing of products and understand the nutrients they are delivering.
No one is going to make a fancy marketing story for distillers’ grains, there is not enough economic gain to be had. Gather up some waste coconut meal (copra meal) on a distant shore, ship it thousands of miles and suddenly it is a magical ingredient for your horse – or an overpriced by-product? Perception is reality.
From the shores of the largest freshwater source on earth, the leaves of maize blow in the open air, getting ready for harvest. This crop will be carried a short distance to be processed into the finest quality Vodka: A-Maizing Vodka, quadruple distilled using only the finest Spring waters.
The remaining mash is carefully dried down to create a super food for your horse, complete with yeast and fermentation solubles to enhance digestion and palatability.
There is nothing false in the above statement, but it sure makes dried distillers’ grains sound a lot sexier than calling it a by-product of ethanol production.
Comparing Costs of Equine Diets
Let’s look at an example of a ‘traditional’ equine diet and compare that to a viable alternative. First,