Horse Tack Review

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Controlling Feed Costs

David W. Freeman, OSU Extension Equine Specialist

Comparison-shopping for alternatives is as good as recommendation as any to get started with managing grain costs. Being able to interpret feed tags is a must. A production-management article on feed tags for horse rations is available at our web site: Commercial feed suppliers watch the grain markets on a continual basis with the same goal in mind. Alternative feedstuffs are used as the supply and cost of traditional grains such as corn and oats rise. Many are by-products of the milling industry that are ‘left-over’ after a primary part of the feedstuff is removed. For example: wheat middlings left after removal of the flour part of wheat, corn gluten feed left after removal of oil from corn, or soybean hulls left after the meal portion is removed from soybeans. (A short article explaining the use of by-product feeds for horse rations is also available on our web site at These by-products are usually combined together with other feedstuffs and formed into a pellet.

Different sources and amounts of feedstuffs can be combined to reach similar nutrient densities of grain mixes. These adjustments allow for cost factors to enter into the equation. As such, pelleted feed mixes may contain a more balanced nutrient mix, and are less expensive than oats or textured mixes that are limited to specific amounts of specific feedstuffs.

Of course, there are limits that owners want in this variability of ingredients. Large differences in types and levels of feedstuffs may promote colic and founder. Because of this, feed suppliers designing pelleted feeds specifically for horses will place limits on the variability of feedstuffs that make up a mix. If the feed buyer doubts the ability of the supplier to produce a consistent pelleted feed, then the best option is either change suppliers, or feed a textured grain mix that has more stringent guidelines on types and levels of feedstuffs that are used.

Grain is but one part of the equation of feed costs: Forage in the form of pasture or hay is the other. Improving pastures with grasses high in nutrients, using agronomic practices that enhance forage production and managing grazing of horses will reduce the cost of feed. These practices are not without cost, but when land is available, improved pastures usually are cost effective.

Similarly, good quality hay can supply a significant amount of the nutritional needs of horses, so figuring the cost savings of reducing grains with what can be met with hay is another needed decision. As most hays have significantly less energy as compared with grains, it will take more hay to meet similar nutrient needs. Also, as hays differ greatly in nutrient content, a single conversion factor cannot be given. The better quality the hay, the less it takes to meet nutrient needs because there are more nutrients per pound in high quality hay. Also, nutrients in high quality hay are more digestible.