Balancing the Sweet Spot: feed

Another recent web search that got someone to my blog was the search “barn manager arrogance.” ROFLMAO!

I’ve been called a bitch far too many times to mention, and this is why barn managers seem to hate me:

I expect my horses to be fed. Yep. Questioning a barn manager about the amount of feed, hay or turnout to grass, is sure enough the number one reason to get on their bad side. I got kicked out of one barn because of it (VP) and I got into what escalated to a violent argument on the side of the barn manager (not me, but her, 3HF) due to simply asking how much hay she fed in the a.m. feeding to my stall-rest, injured horse.

This probably baffles me the most. I don’t see any reason to be defensive about it – when I was a barn manager myself, I answered anyone’s questions about their horses’ feed accurately and without anger. I feel that as the horse’s owner you have a right to know 1.) amount/type of feed; 2.) approx. amount of hay and type; and 4.) amount of turnout to grass if that is an option.

Horse weight fluctuates slightly and by the time someone has noticed a horse has lost weight, it is usually significant. It then behooves the barn manager to be on her toes and when an owner  has noticed weight loss to immediately address it. Weight loss could be because the horse is doing more work and thus needs more calories, pasture has been reduced (naturally during winter), horse has become depressed (i.e. loss of companion), is ill (i.e. could be as simple as dental issues, worming or something life threatening), or age (i.e. older horses need more calories, esp. fat).

Since I’ve also been on the side of the barn manager, I know where this anger comes from – feed/hay costs $$. You’re trying to run your facility with some sort of profit and you see that profit literally being eaten away! So from the management aspect let me encourage the barn manager/owner to institute these policies (which I have done so myself):

1.) In your boarding contract, make sure you detail how much you feed (i.e. up to 4 lbs of grain per day; up to 1 square bale of hay per day etc…). In this way if you get a hard keeper, a draft, or a horse who seems to burn through hay like a wildfire, you simply let the owner know that you can provide more feed but their board will go up.

Whenever a boarder asked me if I could feed more, I said sure, and if it was more then I could afford I let them know their board would increase to cover it. OTOH, when my horse went on stall-rest, I actually offered to pay more to make sure he had hay in front of him at all costs (though by that time, the barn manager was too busy spinning off in her 4 wheeler, cursing me all the way, to hear my offer).

2.) Realize that situations (i.e. type of training, breed of horse, type of work the horses are used for, access to pasture) incur their own expense. If you run a boarding facility of Warmbloods in hunter/jumper training that live in stalls your feed bill will be quite different then a barn full of pleasure horses with access to pasture. It’s up to you as a business owner to figure up the amount of feed and hay it would cost to run the facility you have.

This is why “premium” facilities cost more to board: 1.) expense of the luxury facilities such as an indoor arena; 2.) cost of  hay and feed; 3.) cost of land; and 4.) the privilege of a better location (usually closer into town). As a barn manager realize though premium boarders expect to be treated like princesses. That is the cost of doing business.

3.) More horses mean more expenses, not necessarily more profit. Don’t want to spend so much on feed? Then have a pasture that supports the number of horses on the property. Having ample grazing is the number one way to cut down on feed bills. Yet, how many times have I been at a barn where the barn owner starts packing them in as sardines? Well guess what? Your small pasture will not support that number and ergo your costs for hay and feed dramatically increase.

Since this idea is incredibly important in understanding how to run a barn and make a profit, let’s go further into it. This is a study in economics. As a business owner you are looking for the Sweet Spot: The point at which an indicator or policy provides the optimal balance of costs and benefits.

* While you may be able to fit 10 horses on your 5 acres, can you feed the horses with the pasture available? Of course not. Feed and hay prices will go skyrocket as well as labor (especially in cleaning paddocks) and maintenance of property (broken fencing springs to mind).

* On the 40 acres, 40 stall barn I managed, the pasture could not support 40 horses, because only 10 of those acres was in pasture/paddocks. The rest of the land was undeveloped or used for barns, parking, housing, arenas etc… To make this place support itself when it came to feed, developing the 15 acres of raw land into some sort of open pasture would have been the smart move (but since the owners were idiots, that didn’t happen).

The other big issue in finding a sweet spot is labor but I will go into that in another post.

4.) Recent increases in fuel, increases cost in feed. Since gasoline powers tractors which farm fields and semi-trucks move feed, feed will go up when gas goes up. Inflation will have to be passed onto boarders. Again, as a business owner, you must keep track of your own expenses and average that for the year.

It is not a favor to anyone to give boarders a better price, only to have yourself come up short at the end of the year so your answer is to get five more boarders which make the place even more crowded!

5.) Buying cheaper feed is not an effective cost saver. The stupid owners of the barn I managed wanted to use an extremely cheap feed. I refused. And of course as soon as I left, they did it – and their horses looked like Auction sale crap within a few months.

Cheap food = more colics, more food waste, more food to be fed to obtain calories needed (especially true when you feed low quality hay), more illnesses in your horses, and more chance of weight loss that will take months to regain. Cheap hay probably is the worst cost saver as your horse will simply stop eating it! Your amount of waste will be higher (stemmy hay is a good example as the horses leave the bulk of it behind and pick out the good stuff) and in the long run you will buy more then if you had simply bought good stuff in the beginning.

Boarders notice when their horse starts to look like crap and they often will move rather then just tell you the real reason they are living.

Let’s recap, as a barn manager this is what you need to know:

*while land costs money, having ample pasture to the number of horses residing on the property overall and substantially reduces feed and hay bills.

*the type of facility you are running may increase your bills and the expectations from your boarders.

*the breed/type of work, and metabolism of the boarding horse may require more feed/hay then you are paying for other boarders. Only keeping records of what you feed over 6 months will  help you understand this and relate it back to the Sweet Spot.

*boarders have the right to know what their horse is being fed. Not being open about it, is the sure sign of a barn manager who is lying or has something to hide.

*if you need to increase profit, realize that more horses don’t always = more profit. You need to crunch the numbers and add accurate costs of feed/hay/labor/maintenance to every horse that you add to your property. Have realistic expectations of knowing what your land and barn can support.


This entry was posted in barn management, hay & feed, stabling. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Balancing the Sweet Spot: feed

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  3. kmarker says:

    wow. i am so glad to have found your blog. my FIRST experience with a BO was so negative, i felt like a criminal. why? i wanted to discuss feeding my new, young OTTB that was thin. i wanted to at least keep feeding him what he was used to and then asses changes. this was reluctantly agreed to, and it was clear the BO thought i was wrong and a problem. the icing on the cake was the day i was there at feeding time on a sunday, when the BO did the chores himself, and noted that my horse, stalled for the weekend, had been given hay but no feed (between my arrival at 3 pm and my departure at 5), while all the other horses had been given both. i asked if he’d like me to give the grain, was told it had been done, and then i had the NERVE to show a little doubt about that. (our prior conversation on a feeding plan centered on whether grain would be 1x or 2x a day). EXPLOSION of rage, told i needed to trust the BO who cared more about horses than anything, and so on. left me in tears. i left that place as quickly as possible (but not quickly enough) and by the time i did leave, he managed to rip me off for $300 (my un-refunded deposit), yell at me again over my not wanting him to train my horse, tell my i was an incompetent and horrible person that no one liked, and pretty much wreck the self confidence i needed desperately to have at that time. luckily, my second BO/trainer has put things in perspective and my mind back together, my horse gets plenty of turnout and feed, we talk a lot about feeding, training, and everything else, and it’s all fine. oh, and the first BO also crammed in lots of horses in small, grassless “turnouts”, claimed he could “see everything all day” as the horses argued over the limited water and hay (and mine had the scrapes and bites to prove it), and of course, left them in their shed stalls from friday afternoon to monday morning because the weekend help wouldn’t do turnout and the BO didn’t want to. ditto rainy days. my boy had one week of stall for this reason and almost lost his mind. as i tried valiantly to get him safely down the muddy lane to a turnout on monday morning, and he expressed his unhappiness with his week of confinement, i was then criticized by the BO for not being up to handling my horse. there’s more, but wow, just writing this makes me tense up!!!! and it’s been five months since i left!!!!!

    • horseideology says:

      ((hugs)) I understand exactly where you are coming from.

      Had a mare with Special Needs (Cushings) and the BO did not feed her supplements. Then denied not feeding them even though I had proof. Major eruption and I was told to leave.

      Unfortunately, these kind of stories are far more common then knowledgeable, business oriented BO’s.

      • kmarker says:

        thanks for the hugs! finding a strong mentor made all the difference for me….and today i had a great morning with my horse!

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