Feeding a horse without breaking the bank

Prices for hay and grain mixtures fed to horses have been on the rise for a long time, and since 2011 have doubled, and sometimes tripled in Northern Colorado. Local horse owners are coping as best they can, trying to balance the health of their animals with what they can afford to spend feeding them.

Dr. Kelcey Swyers, nutritionist for Ranch-Way Feeds in Fort Collins, said rising hay prices have caused an increase in the cost of alternative forage sources and the fiber-based ingredients that are typically used in horse feeds such as dehydrated alfalfa, soy hulls, beet pulp, wheat midds and oats.

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Forage makes up the largest portion of a horse’s diet and is the most critical component, except for water, in maintaining healthy gut function. A typical adult horse consumes 15-30 pounds of forage per day.

“Our goal is to offer horse owners affordable high-fiber based feeding solutions,” Swyers said. “We’ve introduced new products like Horseman’s Advantage, a high-fiber grain mix and Forage Extender, a high-fiber pellet similar in formula to quality grass hay. We continue to carry time-tested favorites like All American Complete, a high-fiber wafer fully fortified with vitamins and minerals and hay cubes (condensed hay) which are good ways for horse owners to stretch their hay and pasture resources.

“We offer some pasture-based protein supplements in free-choice blocks and molasses tubs to help animals derive more from drought-stressed forages in pastures and fields,” she said. “Cost per-head, per-day on these items ranges from 25 cents to $1.70, depending on the amount fed.”

Ranch-Way Feeds now carries All-Stock Forage Extender, large pellets made entirely with fiber-based by-products. These pellets help stretch hay or pasture resources by allowing horse owners to feed less hay and replace it pound for pound with forage. Instead of investing more than $1,000 in 25-100 bales of hay, horse owners can purchase bags of extender one at a time for $9 a bag, reducing cash layout and giving horse owners an easy to feed, safe and nutritious alternative.

Forage extender is nutritionally equivalent to the protein and energy value of good quality grass or grass-alfalfa mixed hay, allowing the horse owner to receive “more bang for their buck” as much of the hay available during drought conditions is of poor quality and deficient in protein and calories.

According to Clarissa Womack, manager of Poudre Feed and Pet Supply on College Avenue in Fort Collins, wild fires and drought here and in the grain growing areas of the Midwest, are largely responsible for escalating prices. While a horse can exist on hay alone, the animals don’t thrive unless a grain mixture is part of their diet. Older horses especially need the extra nutrition provided by supplements to hay.

Some horse owners save a little by purchasing hay directly from growers and hauling it themselves. Poudre Pet and Feed Supply stocks Manno Pro, Purina and Progressive feeds. Since they are a retail outfit, not a mill, they don’t have the ability to mix their own feed, but rely on suppliers they have come to trust.

“Everyone’s in the same boat,” Womack said. “It’s been difficult.”