Cost effective feeding is not about being a cheapskate, or penny pinching, or denying your horse the correct nutrition or treats. It is not about economies of scale, bulk buying, special deals (although these are always welcome!) or incredibly complex feed varieties. It is about providing the best you can without wasting money. And these days that must be something we all need to do.
So how do we go about cost effective feeding, and is it all about the feed itself? Not entirely; lifestyle and environment will obviously dictate nutritional needs but cost effective changes can be made within these parameters to get the best out of the feed.
So where to start? The obvious place is the feed and its suitability to do the job. Are we providing the right level of nutrients for the job? High protein, for example, looks good for a working horse but chances are most of it is utilised for energy. Not a problem for the horse’s health or wellbeing as long as it not excessive, but a waste of money – protein is expensive! Likewise do we need all these supplements and nutraceuticals if the components are already present in the feed? A little thought and we can decide to use these additives more specifically and potentially save on this.
But the greatest input we can have is to get the best out of our forage. Per unit of nutrition forage, whether grazed or preserved, is the cheapest feedstuff we can give our horse and it makes sense to optimise its use. At the same time giving hard feed is necessary in a variety of situations and this appears to be highlighted by the vast range of cubes, mixes, balancers, blends, premixes and straights in the market place. However, nutrient quality of the forage can change with time and climate and this should be taken into account by adjusting the amount of hard feed accordingly.
This approach utilises the nutrition of the forage to its maximum and then supplies additional nutrients through the hard feed to meet the animal’s requirement. You can see there will be times when forage is poor, when more hard feed is needed, and this hard feed may be more expensive than previous months (Drought in South America – Soya prices go through the roof). But despite any changes in cost this approach will provide optimal and cost effective feeding.
But we can do more. And that is to stretch the nutrition we can get from our forage. Digestibility of forage is around 55% and there is potential to improve this. Beet fibre pectins have been shown to improve overall fibre digestibility across a number of animal species, including the horse. It is believed these specialised fibres help boost the hindgut bacteria that ferment other fibres (hemicellulose) in forage, and adding 500g of beet pulp can achieve a 5% improvement in overall forage digestibility. This relates to 750g of a standard horse cube, without taking into account the inherent value of the beet pulp itself. Additionally beet has been shown to improve digestibility of alfalfa by 25%.
So by employing a beet product such as Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet, you can improve grass or hay utilisation and reduce the reliance on hard feed. Not only does this make good economic sense but it also gives you greater flexibility to target your use of hard feed for specific activities.
As we approach winter this improvement of forage utilisation has an important benefit. Short days and long cold nights are associated with lower feed intake but by improving hindgut fermentation and its associated heat generation we can maintain energy intake and body temperature, and so help keep condition through the cold period, more so if we can give them a hot mash!
Speedi-Beet & Fibre-Beet can and should be integral in your cost effective feeding.