Equine Economics: What does it cost to feed horses these days?

Updated: Jan 6

Are you spending a "normal" amount of money on your horse's diet? Find out what I spent on horse hay, feed and supplements last year and compare how you stand on the spectrum of spending. My professional, non-scientific opinion is summarized at the end of this article.

INTRODUCTION

Tis the season for budgets and taxes, resolutions and determinations. The twenty first year of the twenty first century has come and gone which, for me, brings excitement and anticipation for the coming year's equestrian pursuits. The 2022 year calendar is already bursting with competition and clinic weekends! I, myself, have been crunching numbers in order to glean intelligence from 2021 and plan for 2022; Horse Health & Care, Tack & Equipment, Shows, Clinics and Lessons, and Travel Mileage and Meals are all categories in my spreadsheets. Part of me says "leave the numbers alone...ignorance is bliss when it comes to what I spend on horses each year."Yet, the other savvy side of me knows that there are answers in the numbers. In this article, I will share with you what I spend on my horses' hay, feed and supplements to give you a marker for where you might lie on the spectrum.


The cost of Horse Hay, Feed, & Supplements is only a fraction of what I spend on horses, but it's an important one and it's important for my clients as well (the majority of us anyway). For each new horse-human client, I ALWAYS ask about the importance of money, because it's a critical component of designing a diet plan that is sustainable long term. I will often punch the numbers for clients to compare their previous diet costs to a new and improved diet, and I have a little secret for you...I'm really, really good at improving equine diet plans while ALSO lowering costs. I often get the exclamation, "how is this possible? I don't believe it!" "How can my horse's nutrition improve while I save money?" This skepticism is caused by marketing from supplement companies. They tell us that MORE is BETTER and that in order to show our love we must spend lots and lots of money on our horses. I, however, do NOT subscribe to this dogma.


The result of these consultation calculations that clients seem to appreciate the most is to know where they stand on the spectrum of "normal". I've calculated daily feed costs between $3 to $15 dollars per day, but where is "average". I'll start by breaking down hay costs (could be painful for some of you this year) and then feed & supplement costs and then summarize the totals for you at the end.


HAY COSTS

If we consider an average 1,100 pound horse eating 2% of it's body weight each day, then we can assume that this "average" specimen will consume 22 lbs per day or four tons per year. Since I have a considerable amount of pasture grass, I assume that the daily hay cost will be nominal in summer, but harsh Montana winters make up for this. So, four tons per year per horse it is.


I bought 16.5 tons of various hays (local grass, E.WA. alfalfa, and Montana grass/alfalfa mix) this year for 4 horses which came to a total bill of $3,673. Now, don't hate on me, because I know that many of you are paying FARRRR more per ton, but this comes to an average ton price of $223 (some tons cost more and some cost less). *I did have to hand stack it from the field and load it into the barn. So, for 4 tons per horse per year, I'm paying roughly $892 per horse in hay or $2.44 per horse per day. Because this is going to be my horses' primary AND cheapest source of major nutrients like calories and protein, I make my forage decisions very carefully.


*If you paid $450 per ton for 4 tons this year, then your average daily cost per 1,100 lb horse is $4.93. It adds up real fast, doesn't it!?!


It's important to recognize what the above calculations do NOT include. It does NOT include pasture maintenance (i.e. fertilizer, gas for dragging, mowing, soil tests), time & labor of stacking, forage tests, gas for transporting the hay, or wear and tear on equipment. Let's be kind to ourselves, shall we.


FEED & SUPPLEMENT COSTS

Let's look at my costs by breaking down annual totals and then pulling out the two extremes. Apparently I spent about $1,029 last year on my chosen performance feed which costs about $23.50 per bag (no sales tax in Montana). I also spent $1,489 last year on my chosen ration balancer which averaged about $34 per 50# bag. Finally, I spent $639 on one horse's joint supplement and $402 on a gastric ulcer preventative. If I average this across all four horses, I get an average cost per day in feed/supplements of $2.44 per horse (yes it's the exact same as hay so don't get confused). I LOVE this, because if I add that to my daily hay cost of $2.44 per day then I get a daily total of $4.88 per horse per day. My goal is to spend less than $5 per horse per day in all feed costs. YAY! What this calculation does NOT include are other supplements I dabbled in and then discarded and any form of treats.


Now let's look at the extremes to get a better idea of actual feed costs. According to the On Course Equine Nutrition Cost Calculator template (which all course participants get access to), I spend about $1.43 per day in supplements for my easiest, uncomplicated keeper. However, for my preliminary eventer, I'm spending $5.56 per day during peak competition season in feed and supplements alone.


So, you're probably now very curious how your daily FEED + SUPPLEMENT costs compare! I will tell you that the highest feed and supplements costs that I've calculated was over $15 per day before hay. The lowest that I've calculated is less than a $1.00 per day. More on par with the average modern equestrian would be about $5-8 per day. So, here's my professional yet non-scientific opinion...


a) For the average sport horse or otherwise special needs horse, if you are spending less than $5 per day in feed + supplements, you're doing great!


b) For the average sport horse and otherwise special needs horse, if you are spending more than $8 per day in feeds + supplements, I would highly recommend re-evaluating your feed plan. You are likely duplicating nutrients, feeding exceedingly inefficiently, and/or feeding unnecessarily.


c) For easy keepers and horses in light to no work, you really should not need to spend more than $2.50 per day in feeds + supplements.


*Spending more than the average equestrian? OCEN's goal is to pay you back within a year. Start by scheduling a FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call NOW by clicking HERE.


TOTAL COSTS

Let's add it all up together shall we. From the above calculations, I spent roughly $4.88 per day per horse or $1,781 per horse per year in hay, feeds, and supplements. My seasonal daily cost totals range between $2.17 per day and $6.40 per day. The highest daily cost that I've calculated for a client was $15.34 per day or $5,599 per year. The lowest daily cost that I've calculated for a client was $3.87 or $1,413 per year. You can do this when hay is providing all the necessary calories and protein and all you need to supplement is some critical trace minerals and vitamins.


So, let's summarize once again my professional yet non-scientific opinion...(I've considered the year's inflated hay prices.)


A) For the average sport horse or otherwise special needs horse, if you are spending less than $5 per day in all hay, feed, and supplement costs, you're doing GREAT! You're doing far better than most of us!


B) For the average sport horse and otherwise special needs horse, if you are spending between $5 to $10 per day, you are average. You may want to check that you are not duplicating nutrients, feeding inefficiently, and/or feeding unnecessarily.


C) For the average sport horse and otherwise special needs horse, if you are spending greater than $10 per day in all hay, feed, and supplement costs, I would highly recommend re-evaluating your feed plan. You are likely duplicating nutrients, feeding exceedingly inefficiently, and/or feeding unnecessarily.


D) For easy keepers and horses in light to no work, you really should not need to spend more than $5.00 per day in all hay, feeds, and supplements. If you are, I would highly recommend re-evaluating your feed plan. You are likely duplicating nutrients, feeding exceedingly inefficiently, and/or feeding unnecessarily.

Firn, my OTTB mare, in perfect body condition being strip grazed on pasture.

SUMMARY


With the annual cost of horses going up and up, it's a valuable exercise to calculate your horse's daily feed costs and evaluate where there may be inefficiencies. I understand that this is not a common way to evaluate feed plans, but it is a more advanced way of evaluating and comparing feed and supplement options. At OCEN, my own personal consultation goal is to save the majority of my clients at least $1 per day while ALSO making the diet better. Yes, it's shockingly easy and possible to do! This automatic $365 savings pays you back the cost of the 3 Month Guided Nutrition Practice within a year. If I save you $2 per year, then you get refunded the cost of the private consultation AND get to enter another horse show! You're welcome.

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