How much does it cost to feed a horse ?

Aside from housing, one of the most costly components of keeping a horse is feeding it. It is understandable that owners desire to discover the most cost-effective approach to feed their horses while simultaneously ensuring that their nutritional demands are met.

Although there are many factors that can help dictate which feed to choose, calculating costs can help owners make an informed decision. Every horse’s diet starts with forage. Costs associated with the forage portion of your horse’s diet will depend on whether your horse is out on pasture or is being fed hay (or both). Once established, pastures tend to be the most economical way to provide forage to your horse. There will be costs associated with pasture upkeep, such as fertilizer, labor, fuel, over-seeding and other considerations.  Estimates for yearly pasture maintenance run from $50 to $150 per acre per year. Since the general rule of thumb is to provide 2 acres of pasture per horse, yearly costs for a single horse on pasture can be as low as $100 ($0.27 per day) up to $300 ($0.82 per day). However, horses generally do not graze on pasture year-round and will need some hay supplementation.

Hay expenses per day are quite straightforward to determine. The expenses may vary depending on the sort of hay you feed. Costs will also vary based on your location, forage quality, and unanticipated circumstances like as drought, time of year, and other reasons. For illustration reasons, we will suppose that a 1000-pound horse is fed 1.5% of its body weight in pasture every day. This translates into 15 pounds of forage every day.

  • If a 50-pound bale of  grass hay  is priced at $7 and fed at rate of 15 lb/day, costs will be:
    • $7/50 lb = $0.14 per lb
    • 15 lb x $0.14 =  $2.10 per day or $767 per year
  • If a 50-pound bale of  mixed grass/legume hay  is priced at $10 and fed at a rate of 15 lb/day, costs will be:
    • $10/50 lb = $0.20 per lb
    • 15 lb x $0.20 =  $3.00 per day or $1,095 per year
  • If a 50-pound bale of  legume hay  is priced at $14 and fed at a rate of 15 lb/day, costs will be:
    • $14/50 lb = $0.28 per lb
    • 15 lb x $0.28 =  $4.20 per day or $1,533 per year

It is critical to know that legume hays, such as alfalfa, will provide more nutrients to a horse than grass hays. As a result, this sort of hay generally fetches a higher price. Also, although round bales are less expensive than square bales, owners often lose more hay due to waste.

Calculating costs for feed is similar to hay. However, there is such a wide variety in the formulation and quality of feeds. It is never recommended to choose a feed based on cost alone. Generally, feeds can be divided by standard, lower-quality feeds and premium, higher-quality feeds. For our example, we will evaluate the concentrate costs for feeding a 1000-pound horse at the feed manufacturer’s recommendations.  It is worth noting that premium feeds, on average, are recommended to be fed in smaller amounts due to higher nutrients levels. Therefore:

  • If a bag of  standard horse feed  is priced at $14/50 lb bag = $0.28 per lb
    • Maintenance,  fed 5 lb per day is 5 x $0.28 =  $1.40 per day
    • Light/moderate exercise,  fed 10 lb per day is 10 x $0.28 =  $2.80 per day
  • If a bag of  premium horse feed  is priced at $20/50 lb bag = $0.40 per lb
    • Maintenance  horse fed at 4 lb per day is 4 x $0.40 =  $1.60 per day
    • Light/Moderate  exercise fed at 8 lb per day is 8 x $0.40 =  $3.20 per day

According to this, feeding a normal horse feed would cost between $511 (maintenance) and $1,022 (light/moderate activity) each year. The annual cost of feeding a premium feed ranges from $584 (maintenance) to $1,168 (light/moderate activity). A $73 or $146 difference, respectively.

What is not accounted for in the difference of feeds are the added nutrients or benefits that are included in some premium feeds. If these are supplemented with a standard feed, it would dramatically increase your costs. For example, Tribute’s premium line of feeds is fortified with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. They are also higher in fat and even have added pre- and probiotics, among other benefits. To supplement these nutrients with a standard feed to match a premium feed, consider:

  • Depending on the source, adding quality fat might cost $0.50 to $1.00 per day.
  • Vitamin/mineral blends with antioxidants might cost between $0.50 and $1.50 per day.
  • Adding pre- and probiotics may be about $0.50/day
  • Extra high-quality protein (amino acids) might cost up to $1.00 per day.

Supplementing your horse to satisfy their requirements may cost as little as $2.00 per day, or $730 per year, if you choose a conventional, lower quality feed.

Overall, there are many factors that can go into choosing a quality forage and concentrate for your horse. You can also use the above calculations or below worksheet to determine your own costs per day and to evaluate different feeds at the manufacturer’s recommendations. Please feel free to contact us for any advice and support that you may need in designing a feeding plan for your individual horse!

Sharon Moore

Managing Director at Moore Racehorse Trust

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