Reevaluating feed program- tired of Purina. Looking for unprocessed feed opinions or other quality feed ideas.

I’m doing a re-evaluation of my feed program and budget for 20 horses, most of which get worked regularly and a few of which are quite elderly. During my last meeting with our feed rep, she suggested feeding quite a few of our horses 6+ pounds of feed PER MEAL. Myself and several boarders are very nervous that our horses get this much concentrate all at the same time. Additionally, some of the horses are still underweight even with all the grain they receive. We offer Strategy, Strategy Healthy Edge, Senior Active, Impact Senior, Ultium, Ultium Growth and Enrich Plus along with all their supplements as needed. We did the math and we are NOT charging enough! Most of all, I’m very uncomfortable with the thought of horses receiving so much concentrate at two feedings. Our horses get free choice hay throughout the day, unfortunately our pasture isn’t ready for turnout yet.
I used to feed Oats and a mash, and I’m considering going back to that, just keeping it simple, however, I’m nervous about not knowing if their diet is meeting all their needs.

I’m looking for advice which:
-lets me know if there is a concentrate out there that allows me to feed less but is high quality
-is there a mix of unprocessed feeds you have had success with?

Your location will help us with what’s available to you.

In the meantime, what kind of hay are you feeding and is it tested, is there any alfalfa, how are the teeth of the seniors?


Yes hay is tested, no alfalfa (but I’m open to it) and teeth are regularly checked twice a year on the seniors. One is missing some and the other has started to lose the surface area to chew. All seniors get soaked feed.

If your grass hay isn’t cutting it, and you don’t want to feed more “bucket food” then I would add alfalfa, assuming there’s no reason not to.

As for bucket feed, Triple Crown Senior gets my vote every time. And yes, 6# per meal isn’t unheard of. However, if you have the space to make up your own feed, then buy hay pellets - both grass & alfalfa, and beet pulp, and a good ration balancer or V/M supplement.

But here’s the rub with DIY - you need to balance your nutrition ratios. Do you know how to do that? Are you willing to spend the time doing it? At least with bagged feeds that’s (more or less) done for you.

How much work are these horses getting, in what discipline and what level, how many days a week?

Is there any turnout at all?

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4-5 days a week in dressage and conditioning work. Warmbloods, TBs. Turnout for at least 7-8 hours a day. Considering having local coop do a custom mix because I’m not qualified to do the nutrition ratios myself!!!

Okay, in my experience the TB’s almost always need alfalfa. WB’s, depends. Truthfully, the most old school “recipe” I’ve had success with has been a good V/M supp, oats, and alfalfa. Not much of it either. BUT - I wasn’t feeding a TB at the time either, LOL!

Your local coop - if they do a custom mix for you are you sure they understand horse nutrition (not cows, goats, sheep, etc.)? I would be rather leery. We have a local feed store here that makes it’s own “custom mix” but frankly it’s crap. They haven’t changed the formula since they started making it. The other custom mixer here, you have to tell them what you’re after nutrition-wise.
So if you don’t know - stick with bagged feeds.

Also remember, a horse somewhat on the leaner side is not necessarily a bad thing.

@JB - can you weigh in here?? You are my go-to for all things nutrition!! :yes:


Oh, you mention a co-op but is there a feed store near you that you usually buy from? What do they carry? Do you know what brands you have access to?

Online, Uckele and HorseTech are 2 of the better brands.

Personally, my own horse, and 8 y/o OTTB, gets 1 1/2 lbs TC Sr & Haystack Special Blend, Uckele Equi V/M, Diamond V yeast, and a handful of oats for fun. She also gets free choice grass hay and a decent flake of alfalfa (about 8 lbs/day). She’s fat, LOL.

Is your local mill Ranch Way? They do know horses and should be helpful. They used to mill for Triple Crown, and have a nice senior feed that might be a good fit, let me see if I can find the link…

Totally agree that alfalfa could be a great addition for you.


We feed basics because they are much cheaper than manufactured feeds. The catch is that a good vitamin mineral supplement will put your cost back up to equivalent bagged feed.

Anyhow the basis of your diet needs to be GOOD grass hay fed free choice 24/7 for hard keepers. You may need a hay net for some of it to prevent wastage.

If that isn’t enough calories then feed 30 to 50% of the hay as alfalfa. Easier and usually cheaper than cubes or pellets.

You will also need to feed a small mash to carry a complete vitamin mineral supplement in beet pulp, oats and/or alfalfa cubes.

You can adjust the oats for energy.

If the horse is still underweight folks around here like a locally milled cool calories product that is basically alfalfa meal and vegetable oil in a soft and palatable pellet. I’m sure similar is widely available.

You might also find Julie Gettys book Feed Your Horse Like a Horse very useful as a primer to current best practices.

You will need to test your hay. In general finer younger stage hay is way better than coarse hay. The wrong hay could be the source of all your problems.

I have cared for senior horses but not for any that had trouble chewing a normal diet so I will defer to others for tips.

I would say they really need a protein boost and the VMS even if they chew well.


PS: I am pretty sure this is my barn manager posting. I am like 99% sure and one of the older horses is mine. I can answer some of the questions about the feed program. I actually just had a conversation about reducing my horse’s hay because he is wasting it. So they are actually getting more hay than most boarding barns. I have moved around a lot because my husband was in the navy, so I have been in many barns. Also the horse’s do look really good. People are just concerned about the amount of food and the cost. The manger is very good about researching things and doing the best for the horse’s.

For example my horse is take at least 30 mins to finish his food. His food is soaked (since he is missing 2 teeth , 1 incisor and 1 molar) and it is probably about 8ish quarts when it is soaked. He is also getting soaked alfalfa pellets in his food in addition to the grain. I provide the pellets. Hay here in the Midwest generally is decent but not sure if she has had it tested.

This is really a post of exploring different ideas to make it more cost effective for the barn; not a post about the horses not doing well. I can not emphasis enough about how good this barn manager is and how well the horses are treated.

I think some of the commercial brands that are available are Triple Crown, Blue Seal, Nutria, Purina and i am sure I am missing some.

PS, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.


I think for a boarding barn you would want to just supply one or two feeds maximum, a regular feed and a senior feed if necessary. If you arent feeding the recommended amount which can be quite high you need a VMS to make up the difference.

Where i live alfalfa is actually a little bit cheaper per pound than our good second cut Timothy so feeding alfalfa hay to older or harder keepers is the most cost effective way to boost protein and calories.

If I had a horse in good weight that wasted hay I would reduce the hay fed until she was cleaning it up. Or if she was a TB who was a bit anorexic :slight_smile: I would feed in large hole haynets so she could nibble 24/7 but not make a mess. I was looking after an OTTB last winter and I was able to give her a really big hay bag plus drop a few flakes of alfalfa and that kept her fed 24 hours.

My own easy keeper horse is on a permanent diet but she gets 4 or 5 feedings a day with an automatic hay drop system. Otherwise she would clean up her whole days ration in one giant pigfest.

Anyhow I don’t think manufactured feeds need to be doing a big part of your nutrition. Very good hay, alfalfa if needed, and a delivery system for a complete VMS, which could also be a ration balancer.

Around here a bagged fortified feed is at least $20 for a 40 to 45 lb bag. If you need to feed 5 lbs a day to get all the VM supplementation that is going to cost a lot! Close to $100 a month per horse.

My excellent VMS is $165 for a 100 day supply and the cost of my mash ingredients is negligible. Oats and beet pulp are about $12 each for a 50 lb bag and I don’t feed more than a lb of oats a day. But I’m mostly dealing with easy keepers. The OTTB was a bit under par but she wasn’t in heavy work and she fitted up nicely on good hay, alfalfa, and a beet pulp mash for her VMS.

Now I remember years ago discussing this on COTH and folks reporting that in their regions the big manufactured feeds were cheaper than whole oats. Where I am in Canada we are at the shipping point for grains going overseas, plus we don’t have access to any national or American feed brands that have economies of scale in their favor. We have two local mills making a variety of manufactured feeds that copy recipes from the big players. So it’s much cheaper for them to bag up pure whole oats than to make a compounded feed.

This might not be true in all places however.

Yes we feed tested, quality hay 24/7 and some with hay nets too. and owners have been talking about switching to Platinum if we decide to do all “basics” such as a dehulled oat and mash mixture.

our local feed store and mill is Northwest Feed or Washco Coop

Ranch Way has really gone down hill since it was sold a couple of years ago (in my opinion). They don’t clean their bagger sufficiently, and there’s always “mystery stuff” in the bags. I bought 3 bags of their whole flax a year ago fall, and had half a 5 gallon paint bucket of oats, some kind of pellets, cotton seed fluff, and bird seed mixed in with the flax–had to run it through a colander before I could feed it–not the end of the world, but a PITA. Bought 3 bags of their timothy pellets a month ago because my local feed store can’t get Mtn Sunrise anymore; same thing, some type of crumble in with the hay pellets. Since they do make feed for cattle, it worries me, and I pick whatever it is out before feeding. Not planning on purchasing from them again.

Well yes, or use a hay net or bag. But first I’d confirm that the hay is being wasted amd not an issue of the horse not being able to chew it. Because thats another issue entirely.

I think a lot of barns also feed hay at the same rate regardless of the horse, (e.g. 2 flakes in every stall) so id be looking at each horse and how much hay they are getting.

What a bummer :frowning: thanks for sharing that–it’s been a few years since I’ve been in their footprint and I was unaware they’d changed hands.

Perhaps it’s time to consider raising the rates to cover what it’s costing to maintain them good condition? Good hay is the basis for good condition and actually cuts waste since they will not throw it around searching for the better morsels.

Kept all kinds of horses just about everywhere and nothing beats alfalfa. Fed far less concentrate with alfalfa hay or at least a 50/50 mix and you can get a pelleted version or cubes. IME, since 1970, the majority of horses do very well on it. Only had one that didn’t do well on it and that was skin issues, guessing she was allergic.

Far as the “ it makes them hot”, yeah, when you feed it along with 10 lbs of concentrate, 6 vitamin supplements and they don’t get enough work. Cost wise it works out as you can reduce the concentrates…some don’t need any at all with a good alfalfa based diet. Puts great coats on them too, easy on the tummy.

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Yup that is the conversation we had was reduce the hay until he is finishing it. No point in wasting. He actually is a good eater just slow. He is 26. He eating the hay and despite the 2 missing teeth he does not quid or anything like that. This year I have had both his dentist and the chiro/vet remark on how good he looks.

I have a giant horse that is ulcer prone. We had good free choice hay, fancy cavalor feed, fancy platinum etc. Couldn’t keep weight, had no topline, was spooky, etc.

What’s worked best is a flake of alfalfa at lunch, a ration balancer, a supplement for the ulcers and camelina oil for Omega 3s. He is shiny the day you clip him, has a real topline and he’s in great weight. He’s still spooky, but no more than he used to be and the ulcers are gone. I think alfalfa is a great option, the horses like it and I just feel more comfortable feeding hay vs. concentrates.

I worked with a nutrition consultant who evaluated his body condition, weight and feed program. If you’re worried about your co-op, maybe find an independent consultant to bounce ideas off of.


For seniors getting a senior feed I don’t think 6# per meal is necessarily excessive, especially if they’re basically not eating hay. Senior feed is not really a concentrate - it has beet pulp, alfalfa, and/or other fiber and is meant to be fed as a complete ration. That said, I’ve often used it for younger horses as a way to give them a bucket to clean up their vitamins (platinum performance) without filling them with too much energy.

That may be too much for the horses she suggested, of course.

In my area, baled alfalfa is the most cost effective source of calories, though it comes with the problem of calcium/phosphorous ratio. Local grass hay is sometimes just barely cost competitive for the easy keepers and of course the easy keepers like more munching time.

You might be large enough and near a facility such that getting your feed custom mixed is cost effective, but I’d really cost it out including the nutrition/vitamins, freight, convenience, etc. You also might not have anyone monitoring the true nutritional value as you would for a regular product. If this mill also processes feed for ruminants I’d want to be really really really sure that they clean the equipment properly and are super careful about ingredients. IME for my situation freight so overwhelms all the other costs that it hardly matters what’s in the bag - the cost difference between a careful complete feed and a bag of plain beet pulp or alfalfa pellets or oats is less than 10%.

I also might suggest you consider offering just two feeds that you handle - a senior and not-senior maybe - and let owners provide anything different, preportioned. Or even having owners provide in total. I’ve always had to provide my own concentrates and/or vitamins everywhere I boarded in California.

And yes, you should be charging enough to cover your costs - not just for what you pay out for the feed but also your cost in managing all the different feeds you are offering and in doling it out each day.

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