Cleaning Horse Feed Buckets: When, How, and Why?

Q. I leave my horse’s grain and supplements in baggies for the barn to dump in his corner feeder at feeding time. But I recently realized that I don’t ever recall seeing the feeder being cleaned. Sure enough, his is pretty grimy. Is this something I should be concerned about? How often should feeders and buckets be cleaned?

A. Many corner feeders do not detach from the wall making them difficult to clean. This does not mean, however, that they don’t need to be cleaned though. Uncleaned buckets and feeders can become sources of mold. At a minimum, this might put your horse off his feed, but it could also have more significant negative consequences.

Frequency

How frequently feeders and buckets require cleaning depends on several factors, including the type of feed it holds and the climate. Pellets that are fed dry or feeds such as plain oats are fairly clean and won’t leave much in the bottom of the feeder. However sweet feeds with higher molasses levels, or high fat feeds can be sticky, and the same is true if you add fat sources, such as oils, on the feed. These will leave feeders with more residue.

In the summer months this residue can attract flies, providing a food source for pests but also a potential site for them to lay eggs. So, feeders might need to be washed once every couple of weeks at a minimum or more often in warmer more humid climates.

And, buckets can become biosecurity hazards in barns where they’re shared between horses. This means they allow disease spread between horses. In this case, aim to clean and disinfect buckets daily.

How to Clean Horse Feeders

You’ve added bucket cleaning to your chore list at an appropriate interval. But how should you clean them?

Simply use water, a mild detergentlike dish soap, and a stiff brush. If corner feeders can’t be taken down for cleaning, consider drilling several small holes in the bottom so water can drain out after you wash them. Drill from the inside down toward the floor so that and rough edges created are on the bucket’s underside and will not catch on the horse’s muzzle while eating.

After washing with mild detergent, soak buckets in a dilute bleach solution or Nolvasan. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended dilution levels.

Medication Contamination

Aside from the obvious, there’s another important reason to keep buckets clean. Buckets can also be a source of medication contamination, which can have serious implications if you compete. For example, in 2009, top international show jumper Michael Whitaker was found guilty of inadvertently doping his stallion, Tackeray, with the female hormone altrenogest, found in Regumate. This hormone was being given legally to mares in his barn and it was determined that the medication had either been given to the stallion due to a feed mix up or possibly because his feed was delivered in a bucket that hadn’t been adequately sanitized. He received a four-month suspension from competition.

If there are horses in the barn that require medications I recommend using a system of color-coded buckets. For example, only ever administer Regumate in a pink bucket and no male horse ever gets fed from a pink bucket. This on top of proper bucket hygiene should reduce the risk of an unfortunate mistake.

Take-Home Message

Clean buckets and feeders are a sign of good barn management. If a barn can be bothered with this level of detail it provides peace of mind that other potentially more important tasks are also being carried out. That said, many barns do not routinely clean feeders in stalls and so this is something you might need to consider doing yourself on a regular basis.