The Cost of Going Grain Free

Last week I talked all about how my horses have come off a grain diet completely.  How they don’t need concentrates to lead healthy lives at a healthy weight.

So people ask.

Why?

Is there a cost-benefit to all of this.

Quoting a friend.

“I didn’t get into horses to save money.”

Horses are expensive and going grain-free was not about the money savings.  It was about offering the horse what it was designed to digest.

Yes, for years horses have had grain and done just fine.  Whatever.

Racehorses eat a boatload because they are in intense work.

Many years ago we used horses for plowing our field.  For transportation.  For doing our heavy work.

MOST horses, however, have a very cushy lifestyle.  With declining physical demands, better science, and better resources we are capable of providing horses with better.

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The whole “natural” movement is a slippery slope.  Ten people will say they practice natural horsemanship and ten people will have different methods.

I, for one, don’t prefer this term.

I prefer sensible.

I practice sensible horsemanship.

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Where am I going with this?

Many people will come and tell you “all your horse needs is hay.”  All horses in the wild eat are grass.

Newsflash.  A couple of things.

  1. The average lifespan of a wild mustang is 15-20 years.  Life in the wild is rough and difficult.
  2. .Horses in the wild ROAM.  They might travel 20 miles each day.
  3. Horses in the wild do not carry riders or have the day to day demands (or lack there-of).
  4. Grass degrades once it becomes hay.  Essential nutrients degrade once the grass is cut and dried.

Horses in the wild eat fresh grasses…and a variety of grass species at that; not specially grown pasture grass.  The variety is beneficial for them.

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When I choose to take my horses off grains and concentrates I make a choice to know my sources and have tighter control over them.  I don’t need a feed mill to add fillers.

At the same time, I want to provide the nutrients that are lost or not present in my hay.

That’s why I chose to offer my horses what I highlighted in last week’s article.

But cost?

I don’t think I SAVE money per se, but for the sake of seeing numbers:

Let’s use Tiger’s current diet:

  • 2 pounds hay stretcher
  • 1 pound alfalfa
  • 1/2 pound beet pulp
  • 4 oz flaxseed
  • 4 oz Vermont Blend
  • 1/2oz Magnesium Oxide
  • 1/2oz loose salt
  • 1/2 oz Vitamin E

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The Cost  of each item:

  • Hay Stretcher
    • $12/bag, 50lbs/bag
    • $0.24 per pound
  • Alfalfa
    • $15.49/bag, 40lbs.bag
    • $0.39 per pound
  • Beet Pulp
    • $14.99/bag, 40lbs/bag
    • $0.37 per pound
  • Flaxseed
    • $35/bag, 50lbs/bag
    • $0.04 per ounce
  • Vermont Blend
    • Purchased as 2×25-pound bags
    • $1 per 4oz (Per day)
  • Magnesium Oxide
    • $20/bag, 50lbs.bag
    • $0.03 per ounce
  • Mix N Fine loose salt
    • $7.99/bag, 50lbs/bag
    • $0.01 per ounce
  • Vitamin E
    • $30/tub, 5lbs/tub
    • $0.38 per ounce

So what does this translate to?

  • 2 pounds hay stretcher
    • $0.48
  • 1 pound alfalfa
    • $0.39
  • 1/2 pound beet pulp
    • $0.19
  • 4 oz flaxseed
    • $0.18
  • 4 oz Vermont Blend
    • $1.00
  • 1/2oz Magnesium Oxide
    • $0.01
  • 1/2oz loose salt
    • $0.005
  • 1/2 oz Vitamin E
    • $0.19

TOTAL: $2.43 Per Day, or ~ $74.05 per month

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For simplicity let’s compare to just a couple Nutrena products.  I chose to compare to a standard feed: SafeChoice Original (what I used to feed Blade), a senior feed: ProForce Senior (What Tiger used to eat), and a ration balancer: Topline Balance.

Other brands might vary in price but they are similar, and this is a simple comparison.

Since I don’t feed these I don’t know what amount would work best but I can take the average suggested ration.

  • Nutrena Safechoice Original
    • $17.99/bag, 50lbs/bag
    • $0.36 per pound
      • Nutrena recommends 2.5-5lbs per 1000lb horse at maintenance
      • $0.90-1.80/day
  • Nutrena ProForce Senior
    • $22.19/bag, 50lbs/bag
    • $0.44 per pound
      • Nutrena recommends 0.8-3lbs per 1000lb horse at maintenance
      • $0.60-2.25/day
  • Nutrena Topline Balance
    • $29.99/bag, 40lbs/bag
    • $0.75 per pound
      • Nutrena recommends 4.5-6lbs per 1000lb horse at maintenance
      • $2.00-2.66/day

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This also isn’t entirely a fair assessment.

If they were on grain I’d still be offering salt, flax, vitamin E, and magnesium oxide (total of $0.38).  If they still needed more calories I’d still have to offer forage pellets as well.  So while you’re calculating your feed go ahead and add your supplements to it as well.


To sum up this long-winded article.

No.

There is no real cost-benefit to keeping my horses grain-free.   You could argue that they have better health.  Better coat, better hoof health, better digestive health.  One would hope that would equate to less veterinary care but that’s just speculation.

I do it this way our of personal preference.  My horses are happy.  They don’t have loads of fillers.  They don’t get more carbohydrates than they need.  They don’t need calming supplements. Hoof supplements. They have a diet that covers what they need.

Of course, should anything else ever be needed I’d happily provide it, but this is what has worked for us so far.

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What do you feed your horses?

How much does it cost?

2 Comments

  1. Great detailed info, we have a friend who lives not near us she rang & asked how much does it cost to feed a horse, it was almost impossible to give her any figures it truly does depend on the horse & its lifestyle. our horses get a variety of feed we call it a salad, from hay to native grasses right through to fruit & vegies & native tree flowers & shrubbery & different minerals. I am still exploring & learning more about native tree fodder it really is an un tapped resource here in Aus. Be well, love your blogs. Have a great week.

    Liked by 1 person

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