Fuel, groceries, fertilizer, grain and hay are all on the price escalator going up, up, up. There are a number of reasons for this run in prices, including pressure on crops from ethanol production, poor climate conditions in some areas and the declining value of the dollar. Of course none of these reasons lessen the impact on our pocketbooks and horse owners are feeling the financial strain. This has caused many horse owners to become more focused on getting the most value for their dollar when it comes to feeding their horses.
Finding the best value horse feed means looking past price per bag and calculating the actual cost per day to feed. Divide the price per bag by 50 lbs to determine price per pound. Then, multiply the price per pound by the pounds fed per day. Horse owners are often surprised to find the feed that is cheaper by the bag may be more expensive per day because it must be fed at a larger amount per day or requires added expensive supplements to meet nutrient requirements. For example, compare oats that cost $12 per bag to Purina® Strategy Professional Formula that costs $14.05 per bag (price at Eagle Hardware Farm and Ranch). If a horse eats 6 pounds of oats per day to maintain good condition, that same horse would only need 4.8 pounds of Strategy to support the same body condition because Strategy contains 20 – 30% more calories per pound than oats. Oats priced at $12 per bag, $0.24/lb, fed at 6 pounds per day calculates to $1.44 per day to feed. Strategy priced at $14.05 per bag, $0.28/lb, fed at 4.8 pounds per day costs $1.34 per day to feed. Not only does Strategy cost less per day to feed, it also contains the proper balance of protein, vitamins and minerals the horse needs, whereas oats must be supplemented to provide all the nutritional needs of the horse. If you feed a daily protein, vitamin and mineral supplement, you want to figure the cost and add that to your grain cost. Basic supplements will add $0.50 – $1.00 per day or more to the cost of feeding your horse.
Similar comparisons can be made between any Purina® Premium or Horseman’s Edge horse feed and the economy horse feeds or generic “All-Stock” products that appear to be a less expensive way to feed horses today. Less expensive products are often lower in calories per pound than even plain oats, so the feeding rates must be higher to maintain good condition. “All-Stock” products are a base ration that can be safely fed to different species but these products will require species-specific supplementation to meet the nutritional requirements of each different species. If you can safely feed it to sheep, you know it doesn’t meet the mineral requirements of a horse because feeds that meet mineral requirements of the horse will kill sheep. So, consider an “All-Stock” product that costs $5 per bag less than Purina® Horseman’s Edge 12% pelleted feed. Since an average horse eats around 40 bags of feed per year, we’re looking at a savings of $200 per year per horse. That isn’t the complete picture though. First, you will conservatively need to feed 35% more “All-Stock” just based on estimated calories per pound, so that eats up about $1.75 of the difference per bag. We’re still looking at saving $3.25 per bag, which is a nice savings of about $130 per horse per year. However, since the protein quality, vitamins and minerals in the “All-Stock” don’t meet the horse’s requirements, you must add a supplement to attempt to fill in the gaps. Otherwise, over time, the horse’s muscle tone, hoof quality, immune system and over-all health will begin to diminish. A very basic supplement will cost at least $15 per bucket for a month’s supply, most cost more. At $15 per month, you are adding $180 per year per horse. So, you are now costing yourself $50 more per year to feed the “All-Stock” than if you fed the higher quality, nutritionally accurate Purina® Horseman’s Edge product to begin with. Going cheaper doesn’t always result in saving money.
In many areas of the country hay prices have gone up faster than grain prices. Forage quality and weight per bale both factor into finding the best value for hay. Quality is impacted by variety of forage, the maturity of the plant at time of harvest and the conditions at harvest. The assumption that alfalfa is better quality than grass and therefore justifies a higher price isn’t always the case. Moderate quality alfalfa, 16% or less protein, actually may be a lower feed value than good quality grass, 11% or more protein. The moderate quality alfalfa is usually very mature and lower in digestibility whereas the higher quality grass hay is more digestible and palatable to the horse. A hay test can be a useful tool to help determine the best feeding value in hay.
Most people are not very accurate when estimating amounts of hay and grain being fed. For example, a three-pound coffee can holds three pounds of coffee, but it will hold four pounds of Purina® Strategy Professional Formula. The weight of oats can vary quite a bit depending on the quality of the oats, so a three-pound coffee can may hold from 2.5 – 4.25 pounds of oats. Hay weight can vary quite a bit as well so, when possible, hay should be purchased by the ton instead of by the bale. Hay that costs $10 per bale and weighs 65 pounds per bale is a better value than hay that costs $8 per bale but weighs only 45 pounds per bale. If you are feeding 20 pounds of hay per day, the hay that costs $10 per bale calculates out to $3.08 per day while 20 pounds from the $8 bale of hay ends up costing $3.54 per day. Also, two flakes from the heavier bale will often weigh more than two flakes from the lighter bale so your actual feeding rates may vary as well. Weighing a few representative flakes from hay when you first buy it can help keep your feeding rates more consistent and your hay costs more under control.
The cost of owning horses has certainly gone up over the last couple of years and there doesn’t appear to be a change in that trend in the forecast. However, using a scale and a calculator to do a little figuring can reveal possible ways to save money without compromising the health and wellbeing of your horses. Purina® Premium and Horseman’s Edge horse feeds are very often the very best value you will find.
Karen E. Davison, Ph.D. Equine Nutrition Specialist Land O’Lakes Purina Feed