The Expense of Horse Forage
By Eleanor Richards

         If you can't afford one - don't assume the responsibility.

         Caring for a horse is expensive. 

         Horses are easy to purchase.  The price of horses hasn't changed much in the last 20 years. In 1987 you could buy a pretty decent riding horse for $800 - you still can.  But the price of caring for that horse has increased dramatically.

         The cost of feeding a horse is one of the most common complaints. 

         If you want them to be healthy, you've got to feed them, and the horse's unique digestive system won't tolerate "substitutes". 

         The horse is designed to eat forage…hay or grass.  Depending on the horse and the quality of forage a horse needs about 1.5 - 3.0 percent of his body weight per day in forage.  This means a 1,000- pound mature horse at maintenance activity level will need 15 - 30 pounds of forage a day.

        Drought, excessive rain, urban sprawl, fuel prices, twine prices, labor costs, decrease of hay acreage due to the planting of other crops (think corn for ethanol) has made hay an expensive, hard-to-find equine staple.

         But no matter what you read or think, there is no substitute when it comes to providing forage for horses.  They need long-stem fiber.

         And forage is the cheapest feed you can feed. 

         Alfalfa pellets, bran and beet pulp are popular products used to extend or replace forage; but they do not provide the long-stem fiber needed by the unique equine large intestine. 

         The protein level of alfalfa pellets is about 17 percent and the calcium level is high.  The high protein level could create a problem for horses with renal disease.  The high calcium level will throw mineral balances off and create tying-up problems in some horses.  Alfalfa pellets do not make a good forage substitute.

         Bran is worthless. 

         Bran has an inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio that is detrimental to horses.  It does not have a laxative effect on horses. The sporadic bran mash that some owners feed causes digestive upset resulting in loose bowels. (The microbial balance in the hindgut becomes upset because of the strange feed.) 

        Bran should not be fed to horses - save it for your breakfast.

        My horse loves beet bulp, and it's good for him.

        Beet pulp has a protein level of about eight percent…well within the safe range for horses.  It is a very digestible source of fiber.  It does not provide the needed long-stem fiber, but can replace up to 25 percent of the forage requirements.  Beet pulp is great for putting weight on difficult-keepers.  It is high in calcium but when fed along with a balanced commercial feed mix and forage this is not of great concern, unless the horse has renal problems.

        Beet pulp will not expand and make the stomach explode.  But it is a good idea to soak it to avoid choke. 

        True forage substitutes include hay cubes or chopped hay.  These products contain particles that are at least three-quarters of an inch long - providing the long-stem fiber needed for good hindgut function. 

         But none of these products are cheap. 

         The current beet pulp price in southern Texas averages $11.12 for a 40- pound bag; that's .27 cents per pound.

         Coastal Bermuda grass hay in the same area averages $6.75 per 60-pound bale (approximately).  That's .1125 cents per pound. 

         Do the math….it's less expensive to feed hay.

         Now let's look at the price of feeding the horse forage.

         The hypothetical 1,000-pound mature horse at maintenance is going to need 15-30 pounds of forage per day.  At 20 pounds of hay per day, the cost is $2.25 per day.

          For less than cost of a pack of cigarettes you can feed your horse what he needs, and it's healthier for everyone.  (If you don't smoke, think candy bars, movies, popcorn, soft drinks……and the lottery tickets.) 

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