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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse care and management > Issues fueling feed price increases

Issues fueling feed price increases

If you've paid careful attention to your receipts from the feed store, you certainly have noticed that the price of horse feed has increased. There are five key factors that account for skyrocketing grain prices: biofuel production, extreme weather patterns across the globe, high oil prices, currency fluctuations, and a surge in global food demand.

Biofuel production. Ethanol is the most widely used renewable biofuel today. The US grows approximately one half of the world's corn. In 2008, nearly one-third of the harvest is expected to be used for the production of ethanol. Because of the demand for ethanol, corn prices (and other grain prices) have risen significantly.

Extreme weather patterns. Despite the advances made in cultivating crops over the last several decades, little can be achieved without the cooperation of the weather. A series of unfortunate global weather occurrences have been a factor in rising feed costs.

High oil prices. The recent spike in oil prices has a direct effect on rising feed costs. Foremost, oil prices impact the cost of planting, cultivating, harvesting and transporting crops.

Currency fluctuations. Most grains are traded internationally in dollars. In recent years, the value of the U.S. dollar has plummeted while, the values of other currencies have increased. Some economists postulate that about one-third of the recent rise in grain prices is a reflection of the weak US dollar.

Surge in global food demand. Billions of people are buying more food than ever before, especially in flourishing China and India. These countries are now importing large quantities of grain. Increasing meat consumption in these countries has helped boost the demand for grain as well. Economists theorize that increased grain prices can be attributed equally among these five factors.

By taking a few minutes to closely examine your management schemes, you might be able to find ways to cut costs. Here are a few examples.

Take a critical look at body condition. Horses that maintain their weight on forage-only diets do not usually require any concentrate (grain). A well-formulated balancer will ensure that vitamin and mineral needs are being met.

Maximize forage use. Horses have evolved on diets composed entirely of forage. Therefore, forage should be the primary component of a horse's diet (at least 2/3 of their diet). While all forage offered to horses should be free of dust, mold, weeds, and foreign debris, the quality of the forage can vary depending on the type of horses being fed. Keep in mind, the price of hay has also risen significantly (about $100/ton) over the last year. Have your hay tested for quality to help determine how much and what type is best to feed. Higher quality hay usually demands a premium. Such hay is not needed by all groups of horses.

Be suspicious of feed manufacturers that have not raised their prices. Historically, when one feed ingredient became too pricey to include in horse feeds, an alternate was available. Not so today. The prices of all feed ingredients have increased. Lower-quality, inexpensive grain substitutes can lower the nutritional content of feed.

Buy high-quality horse feed. Certain horses require fortified concentrates to grow and work. When concentrates are necessary, be sure you are feeding high quality, fully fortified feeds.

Reevaluate how many horses you can afford to care for. A recent economic analysis (November 2008 Newsletter) suggested that the cost to own one healthy horse is approximately $6,400 a year.

A special thank you to guest authors Joe Pagan, PhD and Mark Llewellyn of Kentucky Equine Research.
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