What does it cost to feed a horse? Too many people think all that is needed is to throw the horse a flake or two of hay and they will be set for the day, or maybe two days. If you are lucky to live where the grass grows green and lush and you only have one or two horses, you might be able to supplement feed the horses and they will remain healthy. However, if you live out west, where we do, grass is not lush and feed is a necessity. Keeping a horse or horses completely depends on the ability to feed them.
Many articles have been written on what is the best feed. This will not be one of them. I am sure the local availability of hay for horses will work just fine for where you live. We live in far west Texas. Native grasses are available from July to December. The grass is not plentiful and it will take many acres to feed one horse. As a horse rescue, we must feed our horses the local hay and that is alfalfa. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of alfalfa. We know about the high protein in some alfalfas and how it will make horses and donkeys fat. What I am going to tell you is how to shop for alfalfa and how to feed it to your horses.
Alfalfa is labeled by its cuttings. 1st cutting is literally the first time the alfalfa is cut in the spring. Often this cutting can be full of weeks and sticks left over from the fall. So how does that happen? Well, alfalfa is not replanted in the spring. It is planted once and year after year it comes back, only to be cut 4 or 5 times per year. Think of it like the grass in your yard. Plant it once and mow, mow, mow. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th cuttings, as they occur during the year, have less and less weeds. However, you must be careful to check and see if there are sticks and heavy stems in the alfalfa. When this happens the farmer has mowed the edges and the weeds are mixed into the alfalfa.
I always judge alfalfa by its smell. You know how fresh cut grass smells? Well, fresh alfalfa has that same “green” smell and the color is green. When looking a large bales of alfalfa, always check the inside of the bale by pulling some of the hay out and looking, smelling it. If it has been sitting awhile, it is best to check in several places, making sure of the freshness of the bale. Remember, old hay and fresh hay often costs the same.
Let’s talk about feeding. Horses are pasture animals. They will graze 20 hours per day. When feeding hay, I recommend you try to mirror their natural habit and spread the hay so the horse has to move around to eat, or if that is not possible use a hay net to force the horse to eat only a little at a time. Slow eating and plenty of water will go a long way to prevent colic is most horses.
So back to what it costs. Out here in far west Texas we pay $150 to $200 per ton. Richardson Equine Rescue feeds 14 horses and 5 donkeys. Every month we go through 5 tons of hay. Do the math, that is a fixed cost for us of $750 to $1000 per month. That is why donations are critical for us. A monthly donation of $50.00 will feed one horse for a month. If you could find it in your heart and wallet to make a regular monthly $50.00 donation, we can breathe a little better when they hay bill comes in, knowing we have the money to pay it.