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Managing Your Horse On A Tight Budget


Dr. Patricia A. Evans Extension Equine Specialist Utah State University Logan, Utah

Most horse owners do not own horses as a business, or with expectations of generating household income from them. Rather, owners are more intent on maximizing the amount of pleasure or involvement per dollar spent. Saving money when it comes to horse ownership is always important but even more so when the economy is down and people are struggling with everyday bills. Keeping a horse healthy is a very important part of keeping costs down. In this informational sheet horse management systems are discussed which may help owners save on expenses.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary care can be an expensive part of horse ownership but owners can help keep this cost down. Having a good working relationship with the local veterinarian so he or she understands what the owners can handle will help reduce the vet visits and aftercare. Taking an active interest, and being involved with the daily care of a horse needing wound or medical therapy can increase owners' daily interaction with their horse and the education of horse ownership. So, even though an injured animal isn't something desired it can provide benefits to our education and interaction with our animals.

Caring for leg wounds that require wrapping can be expensive if the vet is involved on a regular basis - especially if elastikon and cotton sheeting are used and changed on a daily basis. Instead the owner can save money by caring for the wound him/her self with veterinary direction and using quilts and polos which can be washed and reused instead of thrown away.

Learning to give intramuscular (IM) and intravenous (IV) shots will allow you to give vaccinations and any medications the vet may prescribe for a more serious problem. Work up a management plan with your vet that allows you to do as much as you are comfortable with and have the vet or an experienced person help you gain confidence with new aspects which help keep the costs down. If the vet normally comes to your place to work on horses, you might haul the horse to the vet saving the vet farm call charge. A farm visit may cost anywhere from $30 to $60.

Fecal Test and De-Worming

Internal parasites rob the horse of feed nutrients and are a leading cause of colic. Following a de-worming program, that consists of testing for parasites and de-worming with the appropriate amount and appropriate de-worming product, is important. Making use of fecal tests can make for a much stronger de-worming program. A fecal test indicates what parasites are present and in what numbers. This test can range in price from $11 to $15. This test can help owners make more knowledgeable decisions about what to de-worm with or if de-worming is necessary if the parasite load is light. Not every horse in a paddock needs to be fecal tested but a random few that live together will provide good information about the group. If a group of horses has a low parasite load, de-worming can be postponed leading to substantial savings if multiple horses are owned. Visiting with your vet about a de-worming and fecal exam schedule will help owners determine what is most appropriate for their stocking load and management style.

Most schedules include de-worming or testing every 8 -12 weeks. It is important to de-worm according to the horse's weight, as many times one tube of de-wormer is not enough to cover the entire weight of a horse. Using a weight tape (which can be obtained at many feed stores or through a feed company) will give a more accurate indication of weight than just eye-balling and guessing. Because the tapes are not 100% accurate it is appropriate to add 200 lbs to the weight and give enough de-wormer to cover the horse's weight plus the 200 lbs.

An important part of parasite control includes reducing the re-infestation rate. Cleaning pens or stalls daily will prevent the horse from having contact with manure, where parasite larvae live. Composting manure before spreading over fields will kill existing parasite larvae and better prepare the manure for spreading. These steps will reduce the need for chemical control while maintaining a healthy horse at a reduced cost.

Vaccinations

Just as humans need vaccinations, our dogs, cats and horses need vaccinations to remain healthy. Vaccinations are usually given on an annual basis although some are given more often. Vaccines boost the horse's immune system and help it fight off disease. It is far less expensive to protect your horse with a vaccine rather than treat the disease or lose a horse to a disease. Discussing a vaccination schedule for individual horses or a group of horses with your vet can give you a great plan to maintain the health of your horse or herd. Giving your own vaccinations can help save money but proper storage and handling of vaccines is important otherwise they can become inactive. Always remember that vaccines are typically refrigerated and need to be handled properly and used by the expiration date or else your horse may not protected. Any new horses coming onto the property should have up-to-date vaccination information so it is less likely that any diseases will be brought onto the property. Quarantining of new horses for 30 days is always advised so that disease is not introduced to the resident horses. Owners can save money by buying the vaccine from their veterinarian or checking online for veterinary supply sites which in many cases are less expensive. Most veterinarians will meet lower prices found by owners at online sites or through catalogs.

Nutrition and Dental Care

Feeding properly is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy horse. When making any changes to hay or grain due so over a 7 -10 day period. If new hay is purchased, feed only 25% or less of the new hay mixed with 75% or more of the old hay. Increase the amount of new hay daily until all new hay is fed by the 7 -10 day change period. Feeding quality hay/feed on a regular schedule and at least two times a day can decrease the chance of colic.

With hay and grain costs rising, many people are paying a premium for each so it is important to make the best use of these feeds. Many people over feed their horses leading to wasted money on excessive hay and/or grain. Horses should be fed according to their weight and body condition, not just in armfuls of hay and coffee cans of grain. A horse needs 1 – 2.2% of its body weight in hay per day which translates to 10 – 22 lbs of hay per day for a 1000 lb horse. Easy keepers will be near the 10 lbs. of hay per day while harder keepers will edge up closer to the 22 lbs. per day. Use a bathroom scale or food scale to weigh the amount fed to bring excessive feeding under control. Evaluating the horse's body condition is a valuable way to determine if the horse is maintaining itself on its current or new feed. Body condition scoring is discussed further in a fact sheet found at extension.usu.edu/equine/publications.

Most horses do not need grain unless they are in hard work, in late gestation, lactating or growing. A working horse may only need added protein if it maintains good body condition so a protein/vitamin/mineral supplement may be better than a complete grain.

Many people incorrectly believe feeding grain in the winter helps the horse stay warmer but hay actually produces more body heat. If grain is needed, it should also be fed by pounds, not cans or volume. The least expensive bag of grain may not be the least expensive to feed. It is beneficial to feed a concentrate (grain) that gives the most calories per pound as you will be able to feed less with a greater impact. This will save money in the long run even if the initial cost is slightly higher. For example:

  1. Concentrate, $16/50 lb bag, divide the $16 by 50 lbs (16/50) to find out what the concentrate costs per pound and then multiply that number by the suggested feeding amount on the bag, $16/50 times 6 lbs/day = 32 cents per lb or $1.92/day.
  2. Concentrate at $18/50 lb bag, high in fat (calories), fed at 4 lbs/day due to the increase in calories calculates to 36 cents per lb of feed times 4 or $1.44/day.
  3. A protein/vitamin/mineral supplement, low in calories, (for a horse that does not need the extra calories) is fed at 1 -2.5 lbs per day depending on age and work. If fed at the highest feed level of 2.5 lbs/day, $24.89/50 lb bag, 49 cents/lb times 2.5 or $1.24/day.

Having a hanging scale or food scale in the feed room, so that concentrates can be weighed out each feeding, can save guess work and money by providing consistency day to day. Removing concentrates from a horse's diet, that does not need it to maintain its condition, can save money each month.

Feeding good quality hay will save money in the long run. Low quality hay is usually more mature, giving the horse fewer nutrients. Low quality hay is usually less digestible for the horse as it is very stemmy with less leaf. Due to the lower digestibility it requires feeding more hay to maintain body condition. Make sure the hay is leafy without mold or dust as this indicates good nutritive value and less of a chance of causing digestive problems that may be caused by poor quality hay. Storing hay off the ground and under cover will make the entire bale available whereas hay stored on the ground can become wet and moldy so part must be thrown out. Feeding off the ground will help prevent trampling and lost hay. Containing large bales in a large feeder will also help save hay from being trampled and lost. In group feeding of large bales as much as 20 -40% of the hay can be lost due to trampling. At $220/ton a loss of 20% will mean a $24 loss or 40% loss equals a $48 loss. It also means you will have to purchase more hay to feed your horse for an additional 26 -52 days.

Another way to reduce hay costs might be to Co-op with others when purchasing especially if you need a small amount. Hay producers will charge more for the 20 bale sale vs. the 200 bale sale.

Dental care is very important for the horse to chew its food properly, allowing it to get the nutrition provided through the feed. A horse's teeth develop points, hooks and other irregularities due to the fit of the horse's jaw and the continued eruption of the teeth from the skull. Lack of dental care will cause the horse to chew improperly therefore, not digest its hay properly. It can lead to mouth sores, loss of body condition and colic which can cause expensive veterinary care or loss of the horse. An annual floating (rasping of the edges) may be all that is needed to give the horse a proper grinding surface. The expense of having dental care can be offset through nutritional gain and a lowered chance of colic.

Farrier Care

An important aspect of horse ownership is hoof care. Many horses that are shod likely would be just as "usable" if barefoot, especially those that spend most of their time in the pasture. Maintaining healthy and balanced hooves requires daily cleaning, and trimming or shoeing every 6 – 8 weeks. Depending on the farrier used and what is needed this can run from $40 to $100 per horse per visit. There are shoeing or trimming schools available to help the owner feel comfortable with taking over some hoof care. USU offers a week long course in May and some shorter courses during the year for owners which can give owners the skills necessary to take over trimming while shoeing may require some additional training. These trainings may allow the owner to trim his/her horses several times a year while still having a certified farrier in periodically to check the job being done and show the owner any areas that may need to be addressed. This can lead to substantial savings especially if there is more than one horse owned.

Boarding vs. Home Stabled

It will always cost less when horses are kept on home property with owners responsible for daily feeding and care. This is not an option for all owners so some horses have to be boarded at a public facility. This can be expensive but there are ways for owners to decrease this cost. Many times facilities will offer the option for owners to clean their own stall and feed their own horse at a reduced board bill. Others may allow the boarders to help with keeping the entire facility clean and feeding all horses a few days each week to further reduce costs. Discussing your needs and abilities to help with the facility management may help you make boarding more cost efficient.


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