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Feeding your horse on the cheap

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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.  

6 thoughts on “Feeding your horse on the cheap”

  1. Hello

    great Article.

    I am wondering with the white rice i am guessing how much would u feed say a 500kg horse
    Do you boil it.

    I was thinking 1 cup each day cooked and feed it cool.. I am trying for topline and ecomomy . I am also purchasing MVA which is expenisive but for nutirents

    1. Hello Kathryn, yes, 1 cup or even 1 1/2 cup of cooked rice daily would be fine. Of course, introduce it over 1 to 2 weeks to avoid any tummy upset.
      You need to cook the rice as if you were cooking it for yourself.
      You can keep the cooked rice in a container in the fridge and it will last a week.
      MVA seems to be a good product.
      Hope this helps.

  2. Hi, I know this post is old, and feed prices have doubled..I am making do with my beautiful old TB gelding with lucerne (when i find quality) black sunflower seeds, bran and oats, plus mineral block and a bit of molasses., he had grass but it’s a broadleaf (he dislikes!)He loves beet pulp but it is $58 /bag..I also supplenent carrots when I find cheap, any suggestions welcome as I am really struggling financially and his feed is costing $100/week.

    1. Hello, yes I understand your pain. Are you in Australia? Black sunflower seeds can be expensive. Lucerne is very good, so keep that one. Do you buy whole oats or rolled/flake? Whole oats will be much cheaper than anything processed. I’m not sure how much is copra at the moment, but that’s another possibility. Whole Barley is about $20 for 30kg, but you need to boil it. Of course, hay and grass are better than anything else. Is he in a paddock? Beet pulp is excellent, but as you said, it’s very expensive. Only chaff or hay can replace beet, and they are cheaper too. TBs can be hard to feed because they have a high metabolism that they need a lot of feed and one that fuels them well. If he is OK with molasses, you can give him more but be careful that he doesn’t get too much sugar. You are doing well with his feed, perhaps shop around for prices? $100/week seems a bit high, so it’s worth shopping around. Hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Hello,

    I have been saying hello to a gelding near my house in Queensland on my morning walks, and been giving him love and carrots/apples when I can. He looks very neglected, his feet are terrible and he has itch on his face maybe from lantana. There’s minimal grass in his paddock and no fresh water tub that I can see. He’s a beautiful young boy with heaps of potential, but apparently the story goes that he was bought for the daughter of a family, and she ‘lost interest’ but she can’t part with him… So I am wondering if you can give me any advice on what I can do as an outsider, on the cheap? I am not a horse person really (would love to be, but we only had horses when I was young and my parents gave them away! 🙁 )and I’m a student so I have minimal money… Is there anything I can do for his itch? And do you think the creek water he has available is sufficient? Would a bucket with rice, Lucerne hay and chopped carrot be an OK feed for him once every couple of days?

    Thanks for any advice!!


    1. Dear Sophie, thank you for your comment.
      If this horse is not looked after correctly, the first thing to do is to call the RSPCA or QLD Animal Welfare on 132 523 so they can assess his welfare.
      For the itch, there are quite few things but you need to make sure what the issue really is.
      You can always put some paw paw ointment (Luca’s is the best) or some cream with zinc like the one you use for nappy rash until he is examined by a vet.
      As for his feed, first you would need to check with his owner before giving him any hard feed as he might have medical issues you are not aware of.
      If you were to give him hard feed, it will need to be introduced over 2 weeks very slowly. By hard feed I mean anything that is not grass or hay or chaff.
      Lucerne hay at a small biscuit a day should be fine, but you should still need to ask his owners as some horses cannot have lucerne.
      If feeding him, it is best to feed every day (unless it’s only lucerne hay) as it is better for his digestion and habituation to the food.
      If he has water in the creek then it is fine as long as the water is not salt water and is not muddy.
      If you want further help, just email me directly (contact page) 🙂
      Hope this helps

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