Articles: Horse Tips
Managing Feed Costs Important for Horse Farms
By Donald Stotts
STILLWATER - The high cost of feed grains and limited top-quality hay
supplies have many horse farm managers studying how to manage feed costs
most effectively this spring.
Dave Freeman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service equine specialist, said
there is a checklist horse farm managers can use to help determine whether
available dollars are being invested wisely.
"First and foremost, buy feeds and supplements that are actually needed or
likely to benefit the horse," Freeman said. "Supplementation needs differ
greatly when feeding commercially-prepared grain mixes versus a single grain
such as oats."
Freeman said total rations should be balanced, taking into account the
nutrients supplied by available forage so that specific nutrients supplied
by a grain or grain mixes do not exceed recommended levels for the total
diet. Also, it is important to remember that mature, non-exercising,
non-producing horses require 20 to 50 percent less feed than horses in high
states of production.
"You don't want to underfeed a horse, but wasted food is money out of the
horse owner's pocket that might be spent better elsewhere," Freeman said.
Another checklist item is to maximize use of available forage. Pasture
production of nutrients compare favorably to costs of supplying total
nutrition by harvest feeds, Freeman said. "Some horse managers worry whether
or not fertilization and weed control costs produce enough forage to offset
input costs," he said. "It depends on individual practices and pastures;
specific forages respond differently to fertilization and weed control."
Freeman said horse farm managers can double-check their fertilization and
weed control practices by contacting their local Oklahoma Cooperative
Extension Service office. "The agricultural agent can come out and provide
recommendations targeted to the condition of specific pastures," Freeman
said. "Also, remember that controlled grazing increases forage dry matter
production in most management situations."
When purchasing hay, higher-quality hays merit a higher cost when selecting
for energy and protein. However, total ration costs should be reviewed
periodically to ensure that the ratio of grain and forage fed is in line
with costs, Freeman said.
Economics also play a major role in determining the amount of feed to
purchase at one time, another key checklist item. The temptation for many
is to buy in bulk whenever possible, using the old "lower cost per pound"
theory; but this is not always the best recourse.
"Buying in bulk requires specialized facilities, such as grain bins,"
Freeman said. "Cost of the facilities may be offset by monetary savings in
feed, or it may not."
Bulk purchases also require more feed to be delivered at one time versus
buying bagged feed from a dealer. Horse farms with large numbers of horses
will be better able to use this procedure since the feed will be used more
rapidly, thus cutting down on potential problems and management costs
sometimes associated with long storage periods.
"Most mills will set minimum deliveries at one-half ton to one ton of feed,"
he said. "With properly constructed storage facilities, bulk generally can
be stored on the farm for two weeks. Improper or too lengthy storage may
promote mold growth."
Freeman said knowledge of quality differences in feed supply and mills is
another key management consideration. "Feeds priced less expensively than
others may not save money if formulations require more to be fed to meet a
horse's nutritional requirements, or if the mix was not balanced for the
class of horse to be fed," he said. Other management considerations are the
availability of a particular type of feed and related fuel and labor costs.
"Perhaps the most important factor is to figure hay and grain costs on a
nutrient cost basis; it's the only true way to accurately compare different
sources," Freeman said.
Finally, horse farm managers must determine whether or not farm facilities
are maximizing feed storage and use. "Storage of hay under a shed can
decrease nutrient leaching by as much as 15 to 20 percent," Freeman said.
"Feeding hay on the ground increases losses 30 to 40 percent versus use of
hay bins." Cold, wet weather can dramatically increase feed costs because of
its physiological effect on exposed horses. There are several types of
inexpensive shelters that can be built to reduce the effects of harsh
weather, thus helping to reduce overall feed costs, Freeman said.
"Horse owners must use good business sense, even if they just own a horse
because they enjoy it as a hobby or as a lifestyle," Freeman said. "Owners
who use a checklist to periodically review where their money is being spent
will get the most out of their investment."
This article has been graciously provided by OSU Animal Science