Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cost Effective Grain Feeding

(Post by Jason)

As I have indicated in past posts it is no surprise that grain prices have been trending sharply higher in recent weeks. Since the next harvest is over a year away and the current harvest is poor I would say that grain prices and thus feed prices are likely to continue to climb through spring/summer of next year unless something dramatic happens regarding the ethanol mandate (currently 40 % of the US corn crop is used to make ethanol) between now and then. Thanks to huge increases in the price of grains, horse feed prices in our area are up nearly 25 % since January of this year and  they are nearly double what they were 4-5 years  ago. While none of us can change what we are paying for feed, here are a few things we do to ensure we're getting the biggest bang for our buck.

1. We test our hay and our pasture regularly. Hay (or forage of some sort) makes up the great majority of most equine diets. Nobody can adequately figure out what grains and supplements might be necessary if they have no idea what the nutrient levels of the largest ration component may be. Every time our hay changes we send a sample to Equi Analytical Laboratories, 730 Warren Rd., Ithaca NY 14850. Their website is www.equi-analytical.com . Make sure to get a package that includes a value for Digestible Energy. This measures how many calories the forage contains.

2. The most important nutrient in any equine grain feed is energy density (followed by energy source). We compare similar feeds on a cost per calorie basis rather than as a cost per pound or cost per bag. As strange as it sounds, it's often the case that inexpensive feeds aren't very energy dense and you can actually save money by providing more and better nutrition while feeding less by choosing a more expensive feed.  Energy is measured in calories or kilocalories. Feed companies aren't required to put energy numbers on feed tags so most of them don't do it. In order to compare energy numbers you'll need to get the owner of your local feed store to call the feed manufacturer or call them yourself. I have never been refused the number when I have called. Right now our base feeds are the two most expensive feeds our dealer sells yet when you compare them to others that look cheaper on a cost per bag basis ours provide far more value.

3. We quantify how fat or thin any horse on the farm may be by writing down everyone's body condition score regularly. We adjust grain feeding up or down based on how individuals are trending over time, what they are getting for hay or pasture, and what the weather is likely to do in the next several weeks. Fat horses on good grass don't need much if any grain to maintain their body condition score.

These are just a few of the things we do to try and make the best use of every pound of grain we have to feed. Buying feed is the largest monthly expense we have on this farm. If you include the cost of producing or buying forage and the cost of producing pasture, especially in the middle of a drought, our feed costs are mind blowingly high. In spite of all we are doing to actively address this issue I can assure you that we are very much feeling the increase in feed prices just like every one of you. In the mean time let's hope for an easy winter and a big crop of corn and beans at harvest next fall.


Sam, Johnny, Dutch and Wiz

George and Asterik

Lighty.  I called him and called him and CALLED him and he finally picked up his head and looked at me.  He did however make me walk all the way out and lead him in so I could have the privilege of feeding him!

Stormy and Kennedy

Faune and Gus looked so pretty having a grooming session in the morning sun. My little point and shoot camera just couldn't capture the color of the sunlight very well.

Alex and B-Rad hanging out


Silky and Maisie

Noble, Fabrizzio and Walden all looking handsome, too bad I didn't zoom in more when I took their picture!

Toledo and Clayton


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

The ration balancer I use has gone from 18.99 a bag to 30.99 a bag since December. Beet pulp and wheat bran have both risen considerably, and I don't want to know what expect Triple Crown senior will be when I pick some up this week.

I feel like I've got the concentrates to a minimum - 2 lb senior, 1 lb ration balancer in a.m. and 1.75 lb beet pulp / bran mash in p.m. + very good quality free choice hay. No grazing here sadly.

The cost of horse-keeping has gone through the roof in the three years since I got Val. Your expenditures must be outrageous!

GreyDrakkon said...

Very timely post about the corn, I'm reading a book I think you'd be very interested in (if you haven't read it already) called "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan, right at the beginning he talks about corn subsidies and just how much freaking corn is in EVERYTHING. Incredibly interesting, especially in how corn is different from any other crop we grow.

Cheyenne said...

I can sympathise with you all over the pond. Its the same here. Well regarding the cost of feed anyway. most farmers up here, that is Scotland, have had a really s**t summer, poor hay and grain due to the constant rain and cooler temperatures!
So although its high now, we expect a big rise by october. I might be slightly better off, in that I dont feed my horses any hard feed until later in the year, but do feed ad lib hay/haylage.

Anonymous said...

Due to feed store closures, the ration balancer I used to use is no longer easy to obtain. I've switched all my horses to Purina Ultium - it's relatively expensive but very calorie dense so I have to feed very little of it - my horses currently get less than a pound a day, but it's a great feed to maintain/put on weight for horses who need extra low-starch calories or who are in extra work.

There's a lot of mindless feeding of grain (and mindless addition of supplements, but that's another topic). "whatever the barn feeds", "two scoops of brand x", etc. And there are a lot of fat horses - there are a bunch of obese horses at my barn and most get grain - some a lot of grain. And people wonder why their horses have foot/metabolic and joint/soundness problems . . .