Q: My local feed store is having a major sale on the brand of feed I use, and I’d like to stock up. But how long can I store bagged feed? —Laura, via e-mail
A: The cost of feeding horses is often one of the largest expenses associated with horse ownership, so a sale is always appreciated and tempting! You’re right, though, to be cautious, because sack feed does not last forever and the nutrient content deteriorates over time. This is particularly true of vitamins and fat, both of which are sensitive to heat and oxidation.
How long stored feed will last depends on the type of feed that you buy. For example, whole oats could last a year or more versus a high-fat textured feed that might start to deteriorate in a month. Most feed companies recommend using all feed within three months of production, with textured feeds deteriorating more quickly than pellets. Production dates are often stamped on the bag seam and might appear as easily understandable dates or more unique date codes. For example 1002017 would be the 100th day of 2017, or April 10.
Do a Little Math
If you’re unsure how much feed you can use before it may start to deteriorate, weigh how much you are feeding each day to all your horses and have this total in your head when you’re shopping. Let’s say you‘re feeding 14 pounds total of Pelleted Feed X per day across your horses. At the feed store you check the production date and note that the feed is already three weeks old. At most you can store this feed for about another nine weeks (or 63 days). At 14 pounds per day this equals 882 pounds, or 17.6 50-pound bags. I would recommend that you buy less than this to ensure freshness.
Regardless of the type of feed you buy, how you store it will impact its longevity. If you buy more feed than can fit in your grain bin, store the bags flat on pallets. Ensure they are off the floor and there’s about six inches between the pallets and any walls. This will allow air flow and help prevent the feed from becoming damp, which is a major concern because damp feed is at greater risk of developing mold.
Try to store feed in a cool, dry area (ideally less than 13% humidity) and out of direct sunlight. The added moisture content of textured feeds with high fat and/or molasses is one reason why these feeds spoil more quickly than pellets. Oxygen also leads to spoilage so feed will stay fresh longer if it remains either in its original sealed bag or in an airtight container.
Preventing rodent and bird damage is another important consideration. Pest feces can be a vector for a number of diseases from Salmonella to leptospirosis. Feed bins are commonly used to prevent access to feed by pests; however, some are more effective than others. Determined rodents will chew through plastic and wood, and metal bins are more likely to cause condensation inside in some climates. Bins should always been cleaned out and dried before new feed is placed inside and lids should be carefully secured.
Before using feed that has been stored for some time, carefully check it for insects. Weevils and moths are not uncommon in stored grain and the damage caused could lead to a more rapid nutrient deterioration and decreased palatability.
With a little preplanning, careful management, and self-restraint you should be able to make the most of your feed store’s sale while still ensuring quality nutrition for your horse.