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Horse nutrition on a budget

Kim Smith Equine Specialist 1/29/2010

Do you remember the old “Total” cereal commercials? The message was: “It takes 10 bowls of ‘Brand X’ to get the same nutrition in one bowl of Total.” These advertisements told consumers that they would have to eat more of the competitor’s cereal to get the same nutrition found in Total, which also meant buying Total would wind up costing less than the other brand. In the feed industry, this concept is referred to as “dollarization.” The old saying, “You get what you pay for,” is certainly true with equine feeds. These days, horse owners across the country are searching for ways to lower their feed costs and still meet the nutritional needs of their animals.

When evaluating a feeding program, we must begin with the forages available. Many horse owners feed locally grown hay. Recall last year’s wet growing season. When most hay was ready to be harvested, it was either raining or conditions were too wet to get into the fields. The result was less-nutritious hay that was stemmy or too mature. The best way to determine the quality of hay is to properly sample it and have it tested. Co-op can help you with that.

After examining the forages, we evaluate potential feeds. With foaling season just around the corner, many breeding operations are searching for opportunities to save money. After the foal hits the ground, the mare’s nutrient requirements, particularly energy, significantly increase in order to provide ample milk to the foal. If she isn’t provided with more calories, she will lose weight and milk production. I have put together some sample feeding programs to compare using

Co-op Winner’s Cup Next Generation 1600 (#331) and Co-op 11% Sweet Feed (#327).

After the mare’s parturition, if an owner is feeding Next Generation 1600, he will feed approximately 1 percent of the mare’s body weight. If the mare weighs 1,000 pounds, for example, she will consume about 10 pounds of feed daily to get the nutrients her body demands. At a price per bag of $11.90, it would cost $2.38 per day to feed that mare our Next Generation. Assuming that the mare will generally eat that amount each day until her foal is weaned at 6 months, that would mean the feed would cost $428.40 over that time period.

On the other hand, perhaps another mare owner believes he can save money by feeding our 11% Sweet Feed, which is designed to be an “economy” maintenance-type feed. To receive similar nutrition provided from the Next Generation 1600, he must feed 10 pounds of the Sweet Feed and also add two pounds of Brilliant rice bran (#900498), four ounces of Supreme Horse Mineral (#93633), and one pound of soybean meal. Even though the Sweet Feed costs only $7.65 per bag, when the expense of the other additives is included, the daily cost of feed would be $2.94. In this scenario, the mare’s feed cost until her foal is weaned would be $529.20.

In these examples, the mare owner could save $100.80 for each mare by feeding our Next Generation compared to our 11% Sweet Feed. Whether you breed a couple of mares each year or several more, these cost savings add up.

Some horse owners may say, “I feed an economy feed, and my mares do just fine.” It is important to consider two things: first, a healthy foal begins with proper nutrition for the mare; second, these days it takes more than “just fine” to succeed in the equine business.

You may have seen this next example before. When I first started working for the Co-op, I thought the cost-effective way to feed our horses at home was using Co-op 11% Sweet Feed. We were roping about four nights a week. I was feeding my head horse 14 pounds of feed to maintain his body weight. When Winner’s Cup Advantage 1400 (#321) was introduced to the market, I switched to it. I was able to cut my horse back to seven pounds of feed a day. At today’s prices, it cost me $2.14 per day or $781.83 per year to feed one horse using the Sweet Feed. When I switched to Advantage, the cost was $1.46 per day or $532.97 per year to feed one horse. I saved $248.86 by switching to a more nutrient-dense feed. In addition, my horse showed improvement in hoof quality, hair coat, and immune function.

It is important to remember that nature designed horses to eat many small meals a day. If one feeds a horse in excess of 0.75 percent of his body weight in grain at a single feeding, it can cause problems like colic or founder. It’s better to feed two or more times a day. It is also important to remember that forage quality plays an important role in a feeding program.

In times where you think you can save money, it is always important to “dollarize” your feeding program — put a pencil to it and see what makes the most economical sense. If you have any questions, you may reach me at 615-714-3202 or e-mail me at

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