Horses are expensive — that’s not new news — and we want to do the best we can for them, which includes providing the correct diet. It is possible to do this while finding ways to save money on horse feed — you just need to know what you’re looking for. With the abundance of choice of horse feed on the market, selecting what to give your horse can get pretty complex. This cube or that chaff? This balancer or that supplement?
While a big feed bill has its roots in good intentions, it could be that you’re doing neither your wallet nor your horse much good. Follow this advice to spending wisely and avoid over-spending on feed you don’t really need.
1 Overfeed and overspend
You can’t dump a scoop of this and a scoop of that in your horse’s feed bucket and hope for the best. It’s crucial to ensure your horse is receiving the right type and amount of feed, alongside their daily forage. Guidelines on the backs of feed bags can be quite broad though, and this often leads to overfeeding which, unfortunately for owners, means overspending. This is not conducive to saving money on horse feed.
“Feed bags will offer a guide as to how much to feed your horse, but companies keep these guidelines broad to avoid overwhelming owners with information and to ensure they cover all classes of horses that the product could be used for,” explains Stephanie George BSc (Hons), nutrition advisor at Saracen Horse Feeds. “In order to ensure accurate feeding rates for an individual horse, it’s best to call the manufacturer’s nutritional helpline.”
As well as this, regular body condition scoring can help you to monitor your horse’s weight and avoid over-portioning. Keeping unnecessary weight gain and unwanted fizziness at bay, while making your bags of feed last longer, is a win-win situation. Workload should be taken into account too. If your horse is not very active, seek advice from a nutritionist on how to adjust their intake so that you provide a balanced diet, but not too many calories.
2 Don’t double up on ingredients
It might not be necessary to feed a supplement if you’re already feeding the recommended amounts of feed to your horse. Understanding this is an easy way to save money on horse feed.
“Many feeds are already fully fortified. This means that when fed at the recommended intake, they will provide the horse with all the vitamins and minerals they require and feeding additional balancers or supplements won’t be necessary,” says Stephanie. “When doubling up on vitamins and minerals in particular, horses will simply excrete what they don’t need, meaning your money is literally being wasted.”
There are, of course, circumstances when balancers or supplements are advisable, such as for horses on a forage-only diet or those who do not receive the recommended amount of feed because they may be missing out on essential nutrients. It’s down to you as the owner to make sure you are aware of your horse’s special requirements and to feed (and therefore spend) accordingly.
3 Consider budget alternatives
Realistically speaking, how useful is it to shop around? “Most horse feeds from manufacturers contain similar, if not the same, ingredients,” confesses Stephanie. “It’s all about how those ingredients are combined and at what inclusion rate — that’s what gives each feed its individual characteristics.
“Some chaff-based products are fortified, which can make them more expensive. If you’re already feeding a balanced diet and adding chaff as extra, it could be more cost effective to use a non-fortified product.
“Some feed merchants will have their own brand range, usually made for them by a feed manufacturer to meet certain specifications. But in terms of whether this is value for money or not really depends on what you’re wanting to achieve,” continues Stephanie. “Feeding a cheaper alternative, such as one that is unbranded or not targeted to specific nutritional needs, may fall short of your desired outcome. So in the end, you may find that you’re increasing the feeding rates to compensate and therefore need to buy more.”
4 Store it right
Make sure your feed room — or wherever you keep your horse’s feed — is equipped to store hard feed properly. When you’re trying to save money on horse feed, wasting it through poor storage is something you need to avoid.
“Feed packaging will indicate how an individual project is best stored, so you can reduce wastage by ensuring feed lasts longer,” advises Stephanie. “Usually, this will mean a cool, dry environment where it’s protected from contamination by rodents. Transfer feed to a sealed plastic or metal bin rather than leaving it in bags that can be climbed into or bitten through.
“Buying and storing feed in bulk can also help to reduce the cost if discounts are available for this. However, storage conditions need to be taken into consideration as well as the use-by date to ensure the vitamins and minerals within the product remain viable.”
5 Feeding cubes vs straights
Some owners opt for ‘straights’ as a cheaper alternative to ready-mixed feeds. Feeding straights allows you to know exactly what’s in your horse’s bucket, but their use comes with a caution.
“Straights in themselves are not nutritionally balanced. Therefore, we would not recommend them as the sole concentrate source without also feeding a balancer, consequently upping the feeding cost anyway,” warns Stephanie. “Complete feeds are fully balanced already and manufacturers have taken into account the ratios of vitamins and minerals required to balance a cereal-based diet. Therefore it’s simpler — and maybe cheaper in the long run — to feed a mix or cube instead in order to give your horse a balanced diet.”
6 Look for quality ingredients
Check the contents of the feed you’re considering to buy and go for quality ingredients that can be fed in lower volumes.
Stephanie says: “This is true. For example, fibre ingredients such as alfalfa, soya hulls and beet pulp (‘super fibre’ sources) provide a higher energy (calorie) intake when compared to other fibre ingredients such as wheat feed and oat feed. The higher energy intake provided by the super fibres will mean that you can feed less.”
7 Double net to slow down speedy eaters
Double netting will make forage last longer because it is harder for your horse to eat and therefore their consumption slows down. This can be useful when feeding a good doer, who munches through their forage ration quickly and then is left standing in their stable with nothing to eat, which you want to avoid happening. However, double netting isn’t suitable for every horse, states Stephanie.
“Feeding forage ad-lib is what a horse’s digestive system needs to stay healthy, therefore ‘over-feeding’ of forage isn’t an issue unless you have a very good doer that’s prone to excess weight gain and its associated health issues,” she explains.
8 Table salt is an affordable source of electrolyte
This is particularly relevant when feeding a horse in the summer, because horses sweat more in hot weather. It’s unlikely to be needed all-year round and continuing to feed it could mean wasting your money.
“Sweat mainly comprises of sodium and chloride, which is what table salt is made from,” says Stephanie. “You only need to feed an electrolyte supplement when a horse is sweating heavily to replenish the potassium, magnesium and calcium that are lost in much smaller quantities.”
9 Never give your horse hard feed that is meant for other animals
Sheep and cattle nuts might come with a lower price tag, but horses have complex digestive systems and if you feed something that is not specifically designed to be eaten by them, you’re likely to end up with a hefty emergency vet bill for colic or something equally sinister.
“Sheep feed, for example, has been formulated specifically for the needs of sheep and not equines. Sheep are also very sensitive to copper so these feeds contain copper antagonists, which could cause deficiencies in horses,” warns Stephanie.