Q. I’ve noticed that within a feed company's lineup, the salesman pushes hard to get buyers on the $35/bag feed. What's wrong with the $25/bag ones? And if the $25/bag feed is so worthless it'll hurt a horse, how do they sell it (which makes me think maybe it's not so worthless). If I stop at 3 different feed stores, I'll be given 3 completely different feeding plans. Help!
A. Selecting the right feed for your horse can be mind boggling and helping owners like yourself with questions like these is a big part of what we do here at Clarity Equine Nutrition. A lot of feed companies whether national brands of local feed mills offer a range of different horse feeds designed to meet the differing needs of various horses. One of the first things to do as a consumer is to know what your horse’s needs are. What age is your horse, is he growing or a senior? Is she in work and if so how hard is she working? Is she a broodmare nursing a foal? All these things will help narrow the field of potential feeds. If you are feeding a weanling then you will likely be looking for a growth type feed. A geriatric horse with poor teeth? Then a complete senior feed would be a good choice.
When you go to different stores you will likely be given slightly different plans based on the fact that if the stores are close to each other they are likely stocking different brands of feed. Feed stores want to stock different feeds from their competitors as a way of drawing you into their store. That and the fact that a lot of the bigger national brands prevent feed stores from carrying their competitor’s brands in addition to theirs. Not all brands have the same types of feeds in their range, so brand B may not have a comparable feed to brand A that was recommended to you at the other feed store. At this point the choice falls to you to decide which of the two products would be better for your horse and for that you should look at the tag.
Read the guaranteed analysis, feeding directions and ingredient list in order to make a more informed choice rather than relying on the text that may appear on the bag. There is no room on a feed tag for marketing language and what is there is regulated by state law versus the bag itself which can carry a lot of promising messages.
Perhaps the hardest horses to shop for are those at maintenance or in work because there are far more choices available to these horses than the seniors, youngsters and broodmares. If you walk into your feed store and say that you have a 1200lb gelding in light work the number of feeds the staff can discuss with you will be numerous. Let me give you an example of how that conversation might go based on 3 feed brands available at my local feed store.
Customer (C): Hi I was wondering whether you could help. I have a 10yr old gelding that I do dressage with. Could you recommend a feed to me?
Staff (S): Certainly. Would you prefer a Purina Feed, a Triple Crown Feed or a Nutrena Feed?
C: Urm I’m not sure really whichever one you think would be best.
S: Well in the Performance feeds you could try LMF Gold or Performance. Or Purina has Strategy or Omolene 200 as well as several others. If you go with Triple Crown they have one called Complete. How hard is your horse working?
C: Well I ride 4 days a week, he is doing training level dressage and I’m not sure if a Performance feed is the right option because I don’t want him to get hot.
S: Well you could try a lower starch feed like Triple Crown Low Starch or Nutrena's Safe Choice Secial Care. Is he an easy keeper?
C: Actually he is but I just feel like he isn’t getting everything he needs from his hay.
S: In that case you would probably be better off with a ration balancer like Purina Enrich Plus or Triple Ration Balancer. Nutrena also has one called Topline Empower Balance.
C: How much are they?
S: Well the Enrich Plus is $34.99 the Empower Balance is $28.99 and the Triple Crown Ration Balancer if $37.99.
C: Wow those are expensive how much would those other feeds be?
S: The Purina performance feeds are about $20 each, Nutrena's are just a little higher and Triple Crowns are about $28 each.
C: Hum well I think I will take a bag of Strategy that seems a much better price.
S: Yes but you only have to feed a couple of pounds of the ration balancers.
C: But $30 a bag? That’s a lot of money. I’ll take the Strategy and just feed a couple of pounds of that.
S: But it really isn’t formulated to be fed that way.
C: But it’s fortified isn’t it
S: Well Yes but it has a larger serving size
C: Well I can’t afford $30 a bag for feed so it’s going to have to be the Strategy.
So has this customer saved herself money by going with the Strategy? Let’s take a look. Strategy Healthy Edge has a recommended serving size of 7.75lbs for a 1200lb horse in light work (based on their website). At the cost of $25.99 for a 50lbs bag (local fed store price 2/11/2022) that comes out to a daily cost of $4.03 when fed as recommended. Now let’s look at Purina’s Enrich Plus. At $34.99 and fed at 2lbs a day to the same 1200lb horse in light work the daily cost is $1.40.
Certainly if fed at 2lbs per day the Strategy will have also set her back $1.03 however the horse will not be receiving all the minerals and vitamins needed because the feed is formulated to be fed at a far greater amount per day. If she is only going to feed 2lbs per day, her feed dollars would be far better invested in the Enrich Plus ration balancer and this is likely why the feed store staff are trying hard to sell her on the more expensive ration balancer. The balancer is more expensive because it is far more nutrient dense than the other feeds and this has a smaller recommended serving size.
Now as to whether the Enrich Plus, Triple Crown Ration Balancer or Empower Topline Balance would be the best choice that will depend on a number of different factors including the type of hay being fed and what else may be in the diet, and whether you want a fixed formula fixed ingredient feed. Knowing which would be optimal would be hard to assess without knowing more about your horse’s situation and specific needs. This is precisely the kind of issue that an independent equine nutritionist can help you with.
Hopefully this little example has helped to explain why it can seem why the feed stores are trying to get you to buy the more expensive feed. Whether the more expensive feed is right for your horse comes down to what your horse's needs are. The expensive feed may be a bad choice for one horse and the cheaper feed a bad choice for another. That doesn't make either of them bad feeds.
† Note that the pounds per day is based on information on each companies website for a 1200lb horse in light work. When a range of recommended intakes is given the lowest was used for the purposes of this article. Prices are based on feed stores local to Sacramento on February 8th 2012. All information provided here is for illustrative purposes only and is not a feeding recommendation for any particular horse.
Q&A: Do I really need to buy that expensive horse feed? by Summit Equine Nutrition LLC and Clair Thunes PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.