If ever there was a time to be more conscientious of how we spend money, 2020 is probably it. Feeding horses is often one of our largest expenses, particularly in winter when pasture isn’t available. This month, we’ll look at a few cost saving moves you can make right now to extend your resources and reduce the cost of feeding horses.
Hay is expensive, and there really is no way around that. Horses are also wasteful. But we can reduce the expense of winter feeding by preventing waste with the use of hay feeders. Feeders prevent horses from stomping on hay, either out of carelessness or seeking to escape muddy conditions.
This seems like a small improvement, but the numbers can add up very quickly. One study in Minnesota suggested that more than 50% of hay was lost when fed without a feeder. Conversely, adding a feeder reduced hay losses to as low as 5% without affecting intake.
Feeders come in many different shapes, sizes and types, and what you select will depend on the number of horses you are feeding, type of hay, bale size and management. The same study also found that all feeders recouped their costs, some in as little as one month’s time. While none will eliminate all hay losses, they will significantly reduce the cost of hay feeding by reducing waste, saving you money this winter.
Now is a great time to designate a sacrifice area for the winter. By selecting just one or a few paddocks and pastures to use all winter, other pastures are protected. Limiting the feeding area reduces the damage done by horses on wet, muddy ground.
If you don’t have a dry lot with a gravel base, select a paddock that is already in poor condition and hasn’t been improved recently. Don’t overwinter on your higher quality pastures or those you have more recently invested in.
Ideally, this paddock(s) is one that is easily accessible when putting out hay, fairly flat and one you can tolerate being damaged. A heavy use area, such as one built with rock and geotextile fabric, will give horses a place to get out of the mud and further reduce hay feeding losses and erosion.
Using a sacrifice area will pay big dividends later in the winter and the following spring. Pastures that have rested all winter will be drier and have more growth on them in the early spring, allowing you to transition to grazing sooner.
Soil sampling is a simple and easy way to understand the state of your pasture land. Sampling itself can often be done through your county Cooperative Extension agent with little to no cost or through your local farm supply store. Soil test and fertilize anytime the pasture isn’t covered by excessive moisture and can support equipment traffic. Similar to sacrifice paddocks, sampling and fertilizing have deferred benefits. Applying fertilizers according to a soil test will increase the odds that you have quality pasture available for grazing earlier in the spring, therefore reducing the number of days you have to feed costly hay.
Pasture investments like building sacrifice areas, soil testing and strategic fertilization are small steps with big benefits, starting with reducing the cost of feeding horses over the winter.