Many horse owners dread winter time. It’s not just the short days and endless dark hours but the cold and wet and increased costs, particularly if your horse lives out 24/7 during the summer months. It is generally thought that horses require more hard feed in the winter months. It is certainly true that your horse may need more calories to maintain weight and keep warm but your costs do not have to spiral out of control.
Hard feed versus hay
Horse owners frequently opt to meet the increased nutritional requirements of the winter regime with a hard feed or short feed but in fact, what the horse really needs is, long fibre so hay or haylage and lots of it. Lack of long fibre has the biggest detrimental impact on a horse’s weight loss during the colder months and so not only is feeding horse feed not your most effective option, but it is also much more expensive.
Horses have evolved to eat endless quantities of long fibre – grass, hay or haylage. So set yourself up during the summer months with a good supply of hay for the winter and this can meet most, if not all, of your horse’s nutritional requirements and, at a fraction of the cost. Horses can actually compete to a decent level on hay or grass alone and so if your horse has a busy winter schedule planned then you may only need to supplement with a small amount of horse feed or an appropriate balancer in order to ensure the requisite levels of minerals and vitamins. If you can buy your hay ahead straight off the field after baling and store it, you will also find prices a lot more reasonable than they will be a few months later.
Hay fed in hay nets tends to create less waste than feeding the horse from the floor where the hay becomes soiled and caught up in bedding. If your horse eats his ration too quickly, then use smaller hole haynets one inside another which will slow him down. Calculate the correct daily amount for his height, weight and work and weigh your hay – don’t feed by eye.
Professional horse feed advice
Feeding the horse is a complex topic for many horse owners. Almost everyone does something different and swears by their own brands but feeding doesn’t have to be complicated. Left to their own devices, horses are happy to just eat grass. They have a complex hind gut which was designed to process large quantities of fibre not necessarily the complex compound feeds that are on offer at the feed merchants.
Some feed companies offer yard visits and will come out and weigh and condition score your horse. They can advise on feeding routines for optimum health and produce a chart with quantities and weights but they can only recommend the feed they specifically manufacture rather than take a view across the whole of the market. It is not uncommon for a nutritionist to find that an owner is not only simply feeding too much but that the contents of their feed bowl are a bit random.
Planning ahead in the summer and preserving winter turnout will make a big dent in your hay bills. Not only is it good psychologically for the horse to be turned out as much as possible, but keeping good grazing for as long as you can throughout the winter will make your life a lot easier and cheaper. You will save on bedding costs as well as hay and feed. Use the driest most sheltered land for winter paddocks to minimise poaching in wet weather, so destructive of any remaining grass coverage.
Ditch the supplements
If horses are on hard feed at an appropriate level then they will not require an additional mineral and vitamin supplement so you might just be wasting your money if you are effectively doubling up. Check out whether you really do need all those additives or are they already contained in what you are feeding.
If you are feeding a basic pony nut or cube then you don’t have to buy an expensive brand name, a bit like cheaper alternatives in the supermarket. Your local mill or feed merchant will have their own variation of different mixes and pencils and they will be a fraction of the cost of the big name horse feed. Always thoroughly check the label (as you should do with any mixed feed) and make sure it matches your requirements and there are no hidden extras.
Choose the right horse feed
Rather than feeding a basic pasture nut or grass pellet and then supplementing with all sorts of different ingredients, why not consider an all-round broad-spectrum horse feed which has everything in it and has been nutritionally balanced for you? This can work out a lot cheaper than buying all sorts of bits and pieces and adding them yourself.
Feeding a yard
If you have several horses to feed then compound feeds are a very expensive way to go about it. Choose a range of feeds which offer a base level nut or cube to which you can add anything that individual horses may need. Horses in harder work can then step up the range and receive a more energy dense version.
Bulk purchase discount
If you are buying feed in quantity then your local stockist or supplier should offer you a discount. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for the sole horse owner as the feed will go out of date before your horse has a chance to eat it.
Saving money on horse feed is just part of the bigger picture. Horses are expensive and so every aspect of the yard routine should be as cost-efficient as possible. If you really cannot pare down your feed costs any more, then don’t make a false economy and end up feeding your horse nutritionally inferior products or forage. There are probably other areas where you can make savings so your horse can continue to enjoy good food and optimum health even during the winter.