Optimizing Your Horse’s Feeding Program

Follow these 3 steps to feed your horses efficiently and potentially help reduce your feed bill.
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Calculate the cost of feed per pound to find the best value. | iStock

Q. With the increasing cost of feed, I’ve started to look for more cost-effective ways to feed my horses. What are some ways I can help make my feed last longer and maybe even decrease my feed bill?

A. Great question, and you’re certainly not alone in your goal to find the most cost-effective way to feed your horses. Finding the most cost-effective feeding program does require a bit of math and using a scale.

Step 1: Identify Your Goals for Feeding Your Horse.

Your horse’s nutrition needs increase with higher demands of exercise and/or reproduction. Relatively sedentary horses have much lower nutritional requirements than high-level competition horses. If tighter finances have caused you to decide not to breed a mare or to compete less frequently, your horses may be adequately supported with a lower plane of nutrition. Maintaining the same goals and trying to support those goals with an inadequate level of nutrition rarely works out for very long. The lower plane of nutrition affects reproductive efficiency and the horse’s ability to sustain higher-level performance.

Step 2: Optimize Your Horse’s Forage.

If you have adequate pasture to support your horse’s body condition, that is likely your most cost-effective forage option. If you need hay, purchasing in volume and by weight can be more cost-effective. Buying hay by the bale, without knowing the weight, can be deceiving. A 45-pound bale of hay that costs $10/bale is more expensive than a 60-pound bale that costs $12/bale. When good hay becomes scarce or expensive, consider utilizing hay-replacement options such as pelleted or cubed hay and complete feeds. These have forage built in to replace some or all your hay if necessary. The hay-replacement options may be more expensive per pound than hay, but there is little waste, and they provide a more consistent level of nutrition. When hay quality is poor, your horse will reduce his voluntary intake. Buying hay the horses don’t clean up is expensive. Optimizing your forage options is a significant step toward having a cost-effective and nutritionally effective feeding program.

Step 3: Finding the Best-Value Horse Feed.

Your feed bill isn’t how much you spend per bag, it is how much you spend per day to feed that feed and whether it supports your horses and the goals you have for them. Look deeper than the price per bag and calculate the actual cost per day to feed.

  • Price per bag/pounds per bag = Price per pound
  • Pounds fed per day X price per pound = Cost per day to feed

Most people are not very accurate when estimating the amounts of hay and grain being fed, and scoops are not all the same. Feeds of various types and from various suppliers can weigh different amounts per given volume. Weighing your feed and hay with a scale can help keep your feeding rates more consistent, your hay costs more under control, and your feeding program more accurate. 

The cost of owning horses has certainly gone up over the past few years, and there doesn’t appear there will be a change in that trend. However, using a scale and a calculator to do a little figuring can reveal possible ways to save money without compromising the health and well-being of your horses.


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Written by:

Karen Davison, PhD, director of equine technical solutions for Purina Animal Nutrition, earned her Master of Science and PhD degrees in equine nutrition from Texas A&M University. Davison’s research included some of the early work investigating the use of added fat in horse diets. She spent eight years as an associate horse specialist with Texas Agricultural Extension Service, developing and teaching youth and adult education programs, prior to joining Purina in 1993. Davison has guest-lectured at universities and veterinary schools, is published in scientific research journals and magazines, has authored book chapters, and presented at regional and national veterinary meetings on equine nutrition topics. She and her family are involved with training and competing in the cutting and rodeo performance horse industries.

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