Besides housing, feeding your horse is one of the more expensive aspects of owning a horse. It is no wonder owners try and find the most economical way to feed their horses, but also want to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs.

 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.

When it comes to hay, costs per day are relatively easy to calculate. Specific costs will depend on which type of hay you are feeding. Costs will also vary depending on your region, quality of the forage, as well as unforeseen events like drought, time of year, and other factors. For demonstration purposes, we will assume we are feeding a 1000-pound horse at 1.5% of its body weight per day in forage. This will equate to 15 pounds of forage per 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 important to remember that legume hays, like alfalfa, will be providing more nutrients to a horse compared to grass hays. Thus, this type of hay usually commands a premium in price. Also, round bales tend to be cheaper than square bales, but owners usually suffer more hay lost to wastage.

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

Based on this, feeding just a standard horse feed would cost anywhere from $511 (maintenance) to $1,022 (light/moderate exercise) per year. Feeding a premium feed would cost $584 (maintenance) to $1,168 (light/moderate exercise) per year. A difference of $73 or $146, 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:

  • Adding quality fat can be $0.50 to $1.00/day depending on source
  • Vitamin/mineral mixes with antioxidants can range from $0.50 to $1.50/day
  • Adding pre- and probiotics may be about $0.50/day
  • Additional high-quality protein (amino acids) can add up to $1.00/day

If choosing a standard, lower quality feed, supplementing your horse to meet their needs can increase costs by a very conservative $2.00 per day, or an extra $730 per year.

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!

 

Chris J. Mortensen, Ph.D.