In a time of financial crisis, it might be difficult to feed your horse. However, I also believe that there is enough cheap alternative not to let a horse starve. So I thought I’ll see if I can come up with some cheap options. Of course, the best option would be to have a good doer who can live on the smell of an oil rag like my Lily, but it is not always the case! First of all, let us review some fundamental facts of equine nutrition:
- A horse at rest consumes about 2% of his body weight to survive. This means that a 600kg horse eats 12kg of food a day. This includes forage, pasture and hard feed.
- A horse in its natural environment will graze around 20 hours a day
- Horses should have constant access to forage. If stabled, provide hay in slow feeders or slow feed hay nets
- The amount of food a horse needs is linked to its activity level, its age and its environment. This means that higher levels of exercise require more food to fuel its energy.
- The amount of concentrates (grains, pellets, bran etc) in a ration must be matched with an equal volume of chaff
- If feeding grains, a maximum of 0.5 kg of body weight can be given a day and should be divided into multiple meals. For example, a 500kg horse should not be given more than 2.5 kg of grains per day
- The main feed source of horses is grass, therefore the main ingredient in their diet should be forage in the form of hay, grass etc.
- In general, Thoroughbreds are hard to keep in condition and no matter how good the grass is, they are likely to require extra feed
- Unless the pasture has been improved, it is likely that it will not provide enough nutrients to the horse (especially if you have one like the above)
- Plenty of fresh water must be provided at all time. Horses, depending on their breed, weight, weather and activity, drink between 20-50 litres/day
- Horses fed dry hay and grain will drink, on average, 3 litres of water per kilo of hay.
- Always provide free access to salt
So assuming that your horse has no underlying conditions such as kidney or liver diseases, founder etc, is an adult under 18 years of age, here is a list of feed stuff that are economical.
- White chaff (essential): depending where you buy it, it varies between $24-$30/30kg bag, $0.80-$1/kg. Since you only need to give an equal volume of chaff, you will likely give less than 500g (average $0.45)
- Lucerne chaff (essential): depending where you buy it, it varies between $24-$37/30kg bag, $0.80-$1.23/kg. It is a good idea to mix lucerne chaff with white chaff at a ration of 50:50 if your horse is on the thin side, or 70:30 if he is on the heavy side, and none if he is in excellent condition. So if feeding at 50:50 and the volume of 2 ice-cream containers (around 600g chaff), on average it is $0.30 for the white chaff and $0.31 for the lucerne chaff
- Bran: $15-$17/30kg bag, $0.50-$0.57/kg. Very cheap, however do not exceed more than 300g/day as it is very high in phosphorus and binds calcium, and is high in starch. (average $0.17)
- Whole oats or steam flake barley: around $15/20kg bag, $0.75/kg. If giving 500g, it costs around $0.37
- Cooked rice: around $20/20kg, $1/kg. You only feed a cup of cooked rice so it is about $0.20
- Copra: $13-$15/20kg bag, $0.65-$0.75/kg. Better be fed wet as it swells. Can feed up to 2kg/day (average $1.40). Excellent to fatten up skinny horses.
- Pony pellets: $10/20kg bag, $0.50/kg. This is personally not my favourite type of food, but in case of crisis, it is cheap and will provide food for your horse. Follow feeding guide from manufacturer.
- Lucerne or grassy hay: depending on the quality and the season, it varies from $8-$20+ a bale. It is worth getting your hay from the farmers as you will pay half the price than at the produce store. On average, a bale is around 30kg, therefore around $0.50/kg if the bale is $15. A biscuit is roughly 2kg, $1
- Beet Pulp: highly digestible feed that is considered a forage due to its high content of fibre. Very useful to put weight on a horse. Around $30/22kg. Beet pulp needs to be soaked for about 10 minutes and will swell 5 times its original size, so you might not be able to give your horse more than a couple of cups per meal, depending on what else is included in his feed bucket.
- Balancer pellets/minerals: those are required to balance the nutrients your horse requires. There is a long list of minerals and vitamins on the market and they vary in price. When you are not feeding commercial mixed horse feed, it is most likely you will need to add minerals. If you want to stay on the cheap, Equilibrium, Best Guess Minerals and Prydes Calcium Balancer are those that come to mind.
Please note that if your horse has underlying conditions, his diet will require modification and you should consult your vet for advice.