So, here we are, saddled with high energy prices. I won't go into the complex subject of just why it's high-I'll just offer that they won't be going down. Ever.
So what can a horse owner in Alaska do to shave expenses?
The first and foremost thing you can do is keep your horse healthy!
This means, don't scrimp where it is most important-your veterinary care. Stay on top of vaccinations, dental care, don't skip deworming. Take advantage of clinics the veterinarians offer, find someone in your neighborhood to split call out fees with, or haul if you must. Liquid deworming products can be ordered online, for much less than the paste wormers OTC at the feed store-get with a buddy and order some. Dental care is best left to professionals, but a horse that cannot chew effectively is costing you a lot in the way of extra hay and/or grain. Whether you chose an expert vet, or a practicing visitor is your call-but at least make sure the teeth are checked at least once yearly.
Proper farriery is critical to a healthy horse, don't cut back there either. If you normally shoe, try barefoot for at least the winter months when riding is curtailed. Keep in mind that a barefoot trim, is not the same as one for shoes. If you don't know what a healthy hoof should look like, there is a wealth of information available on the net to learn from-here's a few:
And there are many others. Going 12 or 16 weeks between trims is not helping your horse remain either sound, or healthy. My own personal schedule is every four weeks, and because of this I have a very sound horse with very tough feet. Barefoot will not work with every horse-but if you make the commitment, follow through. It's not rocket science and in a pinch an educated owner can do a minimal trim and not harm the horse. Besides, thirty or forty bucks every four weeks, is a heck of a lot cheaper than $130 every six :)
Hay. Oh boy the hay. If you are going to feed low quality, coarse local hay, realize that it does not provide balanced nutrition. Balanced nutrition is the key to a healthy horse-and while some may look pretty hefty with a belly full of crappy hay, you can bet you aren't taking care of the insides very well. I consider the horse an intricate mechanism of digestion (and it is) and deciding which method is both economical and good for the horse is a tough one.
For myself, I feed the majority of roughage in premium imported hays. I have found over the years, that the additonal money I spend up front, means I will spend much less in other areas. For one, I don't have any loss due to mold or spoilage. This is a big thing when I have lost 100's of dollars worth of hay over the years when it molded-even when stored carefully. Since the hay is nearly completely leaf (instead of stems) and very soft, there is almost no waste whatever. Another savings, as anyone who feeds rounds bales will agree: there is one heckuva lot of wasted hay feeding rounds (unless you strip it off by hand). Another advantage for me is that my expense for grain is minimal. I feed other elements to plug the missing nutrients, and it works quite well. The horses are round (carrying weight well over the hips and loin), shiny, blooming with health and have plenty of energy too. They receive just enough of my mix of rations to get the mineral sup down, and that's all they need.
Don't skip the vitamin mineral supplements either. In this case, you can't really see evidence of being economical-but, it is there, brewing on the insides. Eventually you will notice changes in hair coat, the way the weight is carried on the frame, energy levels, and perhaps even gait changes. The feet will change, the pattern of hair growth and loss as well. Whatever you choose, stick with it, and to stave off other issues, add more vitamin e if your horse has no access to pasture during the summer months.
Do I feed straight imported hays? Not as a rule. I search out the best local hay I can find, and part of the diet always includes local (except for recovery horses) and plenty of it. My target for roughage is 2 percent of body weight per day of hay, minimum. This is to maintain healthy gut function as is recommended by most veterinarians and equine nutritionists. In the winter months, I feed enough hay that each horse has at least eight hours of hay-and free feed when the temps drop off severely. I also provide a warm beet pulp mash nightly, with additonal salt to encourage them to drink enough water to safely process all that extra hay. I have yet to remove a blanket after a cold spell, and see weight loss ;)
Another handy money saving tip is investing in timers. These little gadgets will cut your stock tank heater bill by enough to pay for itself the first month. All of my stock tanks are well insulated and placed on pallets off the ground. Each has a 1500 watt stock tank heater installed, and each is plugged into a timer when needed. You can set them to come on and off twice a day...the most I have had to set them for was a total of ten hours a day-but your location will vary from mine. I figured out a few years back that a 1500 watt heater working nonstop could boost your electric bill by $90! The timer costs under $20, you can find them at SBS. In the winter, with three tank heaters and lights going nonstop, my electric bill jumps only by about $50 a month. I think those timers have paid for themselves many times over ;)
I am sure you are thinking-well, that sounds great, but it doesn't seem like it would save any money doing things that way. Right?
Well, on the other hand, I don't have repeated vet calls to cope with diet related issues: laminitis, colics, allergies (although some come with them, I admit), they are "easy keepers", and no one seems to get sick as a result of my approach. I monitor each horse carefully as to condition and because of this, I notice anything amiss right away.
So, all you thrifty Alaskan horse owners, chime in with your tips and tricks for keeping a horse both healthy, without busting the wallet!