If you ask my daughter how much it costs to feed her pony she will answer you with gusto: “Thirteen Dollars!” she declares proudly. Wouldn’t that be nice? So how much does it actually cost to feed a horse? In reality, the little bugger costs a lot more than that. Between hay, grain, maintaining his grazing field, salt licks and nutritional supplements-Clyde set us back about $160 plus per month.
According to a University of Maine study, horse owners report spending $1,214 on average per on hay and grain alone. Clyde is actually a rescue whom we adopted from owners who did not know the actual costs related to maintaining a small pony. Just because he’s tiny, doesn’t mean he’s cheap. This was a sad situation for not only Clyde, who wasn’t getting the proper nutrition and care. But for their kids who had become attached to him. Luckily, we were able to give him a home not too far from his former family and provide him with the proper care and nutrition.
Cost to Feed a Horse: The Rules of Feeding
Horses are omnivores, meaning their diet consists of plants and meat. Although much of their nutrition is derived from a plant-based diet, horses can and do eat meat. A horse will eat almost anything you feed to it. So if an owner occasionally gives their horse a hot dog, while inadvisable, they will eat it. This is simply because it was given to them.
It is reported that wild horses and the occasional domestic horse will chow down on a smaller mammal. Possibly even a fish, however, this is not common. Mostly, horses eat 1.5-2% of their body weight daily grazing on grass or hay. Many owners choose to supplement their horse’s grazing with grains, especially in the winter months. It gives them some additional nutrition to create heat to combat the cold weather one to two times per day.
Lush/Plush Greens and Legumes
Green does not automatically mean “good” when it comes to feeding your horse. Lush/Plush green grass in moderation is best. Legumes such as clover, offer green, natural protein again, moderation is key. Nutrient toxicity, especially from a high protein diet, can lead to serious problems for your horse. Too much access to green grass can cause problems with their hooves (read Laminitis) and if not properly digested, can lead to colic. You can read more about the pros and cons of grass-feeding here.
Cost to Feed a Horse, Hay
Hay is the swiss-army-knife of the horsing world. It can be used as feed, in a pinch for bedding and offers nutrition that your horse can’t get from the green stuff. Fiber and other low-calorie nutrients can be found in the hay in addition to the fact that it can be fed year-round. Hay comes in a few different forms. Mixed hay includes a combination of legumes and grass hay.
This type of hay is a source of protein for your horse and should be used in moderation, taking into account your horse’s age and workload. Grass hay is a great choice for most adult horses, or horses with a lesser workload because it’s provides a low-calorie feed that also satiates your four-legged friend. For more information on hay, feeding check out the American Association of Equine Practitioners post here.
Cost to Feed a Horse, Grains
Grain feeding is truly a case by case choice most horse owners make, depending on their horse’s needs. Young foals and fillies have vastly different nutritional needs than a retired or older horse. Overweight horses are going to have very different needs than horses who have a hard time keeping weight on.
Depending on your horse’s individual needs, you may or may not make the choice to feed grains. You will also find that many owners make seasonal graining choices, which depends on the climate in which the horses live. I personally, feed grains in the winter, to help my older fur-babies to restore some of the calories they lose keeping themselves warm during cold New York winters.
For younger horses, hay is usually sufficient in keeping their internal heater running because of the fiber content. Kentucky Equine Research has an incredibly comprehensive article on what to feed your horse based on age and nutritional need that you can find here.
Cost to Feed a Horse: Equine Supplements
Depending on the health of your horse, you may worry about a nutritional deficiency, adding supplements to a horse’s diet is a choice best made under the advisement of your veterinarian. Should you and your vet decide a supplement is necessary, here is an outline of the most commonly used supplements and why they are used.
Alfalfa is a high protein legume that can be used to supplement nutrition for horses that have a need for it. The occasional alfalfa treat for a healthy, adult horse is no big deal but should not be used regularly unless your horse truly requires it. Foals not getting enough milk, horses that need to gain weight or suffer from Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) may require an alfalfa supplement. Alfalfa supplements would not be a good choice for overweight or insulin-resistant horses.
There is mixed research about the effectiveness of joint supplements in horses. Mostly, joint supplements that contain glucosamine chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid reign supreme and there is some evidence that they assist in reducing inflammation in the joints, promoting cartilage growth which are all good things for a horse with chronic joint pain. Before feeding a joint supplement, it is best to consult your veterinarian to confirm the necessity.
Probiotics and Your Horse
In a world where we are inundated with information about gut health-probiotics in our yogurt, in weight loss supplements and unlimited research on their positive effects for the human gut-flora it is easy to wonder if your horse would benefit from them as well. The gut of your horse is a very delicate place. Gastrointestinal disease is the number one cause of death in horses. Research suggests that some probiotic supplements do not disclose everything they contain and in fact may cause harm to your horse. The choice to add a probiotic supplement to your horse’s diet is a decision to be made with your veterinarian. Here is a recent study conducted by Alexa C B Johnson and Heidi A Rossow on the effect of two probiotic supplements and the effects on a horse’s hindgut health.
Average Monthly Cost To Feed a Horse
The cost of feeding your horse varies greatly based on your location. A bale of hay can cost anywhere between $5-$10 per square bale. Should you choose to grain feed, there can be an added expense. Similarly, depending on your horse’s nutritional needs, they may or may not require a supplement.
The University of Maine’s survey of 82 horse owners, owning a total of 470 horses estimates that an owner with an average number of 6 horses, weighing 1100 lbs at 1.5 lbs per cwt per day for 9 months (on pasture the other 3 months) costs $1, 214 in hay and grain. Add an additional average of $194 for pasture maintenance and you’re looking at $1,405 per year.
The costs of feed are highly dependent on the number of horses you own and the needs of those animals. It is important to know that feeding your hose can be broken down into monthly costs, but forge such as hay is best purchased and stored when it is in the season to avoid molding and other problems.
To give you a few examples of how the costs can vary, imagine you as an owner, has made the choice to buy your hay in the late spring and store it throughout the year. The benefit of doing this is that you will know elements the hay has been exposed to and how it has been stored.
Many owners choose to do this to minimize problems with the feed. Not factored into the numbers in the University of Maine survey is not only the costs to store the feed, but also the cost to transport the hay to your horse if you’re not farming it yourself.
If you store hay you also have the cost of maintaining, purchasing or leasing a hay wagon, a vehicle sturdy enough to pull it (or delivery fees from your farmer) and the time it will take you to pick up (no, the wagon is not always filled by the farmer). Also not factored into UMaine’s study is the time and physical labor it will take you to store the hay as the farmer will most assuredly not unload the hay into your storage facility.
Alternatively, another owner may buy their hay from a familiar farmer, in big round bales placed in a round bale feeder every two weeks-year round. This owner is comfortable with the way the farmer stores his or her hay. So they don’t feel the need to store it themselves. However, they are liable for some of the same costs as our first owner as it relates to transporting the hay to the horse.
The differences between our two owners can be explained in a number of different ways. One may have young, healthy horses, the other may have an older team or horses with health needs. Problems like allergies that cause them to pay closer attention to the storage of their hay. To read more about the survey by UMaine visit: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/1004e/
All in all, the cost of feeding your horse is going to depend heavily on your horse. Also, this depends on your instincts as an owner. Your horse’s health will dictate much of the costs associated with feed. However, there are costs often not factored into your feed bill such as acquiring and storing the feed. Also, this includes the time you will spend managing your feed supply. As always, feel free to comment or ask any questions related to horse feeding below.
-The sweet spot for feed costs occurs when your horse is of the median age and good health. If you are looking to purchase a horse, feed costs are a concern. You are going to want to avoid younger horses who are still developing and older ones that may have health problems. Keep in mind, time takes its toll on all of us. The decision to purchase a horse should come with a healthy understanding. This should be a lifetime commitment.
-Feeding your horse is a delicate process. Knowing how to identify the nutritional needs of your horse is paramount. This is to safely provide your steed with the feed his body needs.
-Supplements are necessary for certain situations and should always be discussed with your vet before they begin.