Feeding your horse properly is critical for maintaining its good health. In order to do this, you will have to pay for hay and grain. It's important to know the potential costs of horse food and the factors that affect their price so you can plan your budget accordingly.
In the wild, horses live in herds consisting of numerous animals. They graze all day, moving along and eating grass as they go. In captivity, they are usually restricted to eating at specified times. Because most barns don't have enough fresh grass to feed their horses on an ongoing basis, the major part of a captive equine's diet consists of hay (dried grasses) and grains such as oats and corn that are mixed with vitamin pellets. Although some barn owners who also own significant parcels of land may be able to grow their own hay, most purchase both their hay and grain in order to feed their horses.
Food has high significance in proper horse care. Hay is a bulk food that aids in a horse's proper digestion, and grain is an energy food that provides the animal with proper nutrients to function. While some horses, known as "easy keepers," can exist on minimal grain, all must be fed an appropriate quantity of hay in order to remain healthy. An easy keep might eat half a pound to 1.5 pounds of grain per day, while horses that have trouble maintaining their weight might eat five pounds or more. Horses with special needs may require a special food blend. For example, horse owners can purchase grains formulated for elderly horses, pregnant mares or growing foals.
There are several types of hays and grains, some of which contain more nutrients than others. Common types of hay include alfalfa, timothy and peanut hay. Hay is sold in various forms, such as square bales, round bales and bagged cubes.
Grain blends also vary too. Most have an oat base and, depending on the type of feed, they might contain other ingredients like corn, beet pulp, flax seed and corn hulls. Many manufacturers blend in molasses in order to make the feed more palatable. This is known as "sweet feed." Some feeds are made entirely from pellets, which contain the same ingredients but in a compacted form.
The cost of hay varies based on geographic region, season, the type of hay and the form in which it is purchased. Purchasing hay in bulk form, such as round or square bales, is cheaper than purchasing bagged cubes. Bales of hay can run from $2.00 to more than $15.00 per bale, depending on where you live and how the climate has affected the growing seasons. Droughts push up the cost of hay significantly, and the price goes up in the winter as supplies become more scarce. Typically the cost goes down again in the spring and summer unless the weather negatively impacts growth.
The cost of grain is more consistent. The main variance is between brand names and the type of blend purchased. Bulk grain with no brand name may cost as little as $10 for a 50-pound bag. A brand-name food can cost $20 to $30 or more per bag. However, you may be able to feed your horse less of the brand-name feed so the cost may even out.
Your personal situation will help determine how much you pay for horse food. For example, even though bulk hay is cheaper, you may not have enough storage space to keep hay bales or you may not have a dry area in which to store exposed hay. You will have to purchase more expensive bagged cubes because they are sealed and take up less space. If you have a horse with special needs, you will have to purchase a specialized grain blend that costs more in order to keep the horse healthy.