Monday, February 8, 2010

Costs of running a barn: Spinoff on hay discussion

My posts about hay (part 1 and 2) made me want to crunch some numbers on costs of operating a barn -- to put things in context. Take a look at these numbers for a 20 horse barn. Am I close? What's missing?

Hay costs
This is a pretty granular analysis. If you assume a $5 bale of hay has ten flakes, each flake is 50 cents. If you feed six flakes a day (the least I would want to feed most horses), that's $3/day per horse. For a barn of 20 horses, that is $60/day, or $1800/month.

Well, I've covered hay concerns in other blog posts -- many people are anxious about hay. If some boarders "self-serve" their horses -- say, ten flakes a day total -- that's $5/day or $150/month, for a total hay cost of $1950.

Shavings costs
If a bag of shavings costs $6, and a horse uses 1/2 bag a day (conservative estimate), a barn of 20 horses will use $1800 of shavings in a month.

Lets assume a bag of grain costs $14 for a 50 lb bag, and the avg horse eats 5 lbs grain a day. That's 3 bags of grain per horse, per month, and a barn of 20 horses would go through 60 bags or $850 worth of grain.

Figure 5 hours to clean 20 stalls, 2 hours to handle horses, and 3 hours for feeding, watering, sweeping. If you do 1/3 the work yourself, as the barn owner/manager, you'll pay for 6 hours labor per day. If you pay $8/hour, you'll pay $50/day (conservative estimate), or $1500/month.

Facility rental or mortgage
For simplicity, I'm going to assume the manager leases stalls at a rate of $100/stall, or for our 20 horse barn, $2,000/month.

2,000(barn rental)

Divide 8100 by 20 horses and the cost per horse is $405/month per horse, NOT INCLUDING utilities and maintenance and equipment and gas for the equipment and insurance and other stuff I've forgotten.

What I can't account for are utility costs, maintenance costs (ring, barn, etc). So if you charge $500/month, the gross profts are, well, pretty marginal.

Moral of the story
You don't make money on boarding.


  1. Wow! That's pretty shocking. Would you be interested in doing a similar cost breakdown for horse ownership, assuming you board your horse? I'd be interested in what the average numbers are for vet care, equipment, all that stuff.

  2. Anon, I try very hard not to think about those numbers :-) But it is a good topic to think about....

  3. Interesting analysis! One thing that's worth noting is once you get into larger numbers of horses, you can save significantly on some things (not to mention reduce waste) by purchasing in bulk instead of by the bag. For example, the facility I work for has 60 stalled horses and our shavings bill is +/- $2000/month. And we don't have to dispose of a gazillion empty shavings bags every week.

    Hay, unfortunately, always seems to cost $6/bale whether you buy 5 or 500 at a time. :o/

  4. I would think that there would be so many variations regarding individuals that it would be hard to calculate.

    I for one have things pretty cheap =) I take incredible care of my horse and give her the best but she is an easy keeper and only requires 2-3 flakes of our hay per day. Along the same lines she doesn't get grain just a small amount of supplement to make up her nutritional needs. Also, she lives at home so no board. There are vet costs but she is barefoot and I do her feet so nothing there either.

    During the summer our grass takes the place of the hay (we have INCREDIBLE grass =) so that isn't even a cost consideration. Of course there are vet expenses and the upkeep of the fence, grooming products etc. but compared to board that is all quite inexpensive.

    This summer or by next fall I won't be able to keep her at home and will move to boarding so that will be interesting =)

    Sorry for the length =3

  5. I agree with you, Stacey: I try not to think about how much my horse costs.

    The cost of hay can fluctuate wildly over several years. In 2009 my region had the first GOOD year for local hay that we've had for more than a decade--and it was a REALLY GOOD year. The price of good-quality hay dropped to $4/bale if you went to get it in a nearby field. In 2008 the price was $10/bale or more, and it had to be trucked over a mountain pass to get to us. I'm praying for 10 more growing seasons like last summer, if only so the hay farmers can dig out of debt!

    To make a small fortune doing anything with horses, I'm pretty sure you need to start with a large fortune. Otherwise, it's a business for people who can't do math very well.

  6. You're pretty close!! My good friend doesn't make her money on boarding. She makes it on dressage lessons (she's a bronze medalist). Very good analysis and I would say pretty accurate.

  7. I never thought boarding horses was a moneymaking venture. It used to be that the board for one horse should be enough to pay for one horse of your own as well. I'd have to do some figuring to see if that was true.

    There are some ways to cut corners, but I never felt hay was one of them. Why is it that stable owners seem to think that is OK? My friend has to supplement her horse's board supplied hay with some of her own so her mare does not go through the night with nothing to nibble on.

  8. $5 for a bale of hay?!?
    Our T&A is $17-$18/bale, and that's a pretty normal price.

  9. Our insurance is fairly typical coverage with lessons, boarding, breeding, training and runs about $3100 per year with coverage for barn & indoor. Also, you overlooked employment taxes for the labor which realistically raise that $8 to $11. The best way to handle labor is a working student, barter for board or services, or a bigger family! We save on the going rate for hay by contracting for a set amount ahead of time. Same for straw - shavings I have to buy by the bag here and it's outrageously more expensive than straw.

    And, yeah, then there's the tractor and it's fuel and oil, etc, jumps to fix and paint, boards to replace, footing to treat and maintain, hoses to replace, and last year we had to put in a new well.

    Boarding is hard to make $ at unless you offer services (training, lessons, breeding) on the side.

  10. I live in southwest Florida. We buy our hay from California, though. We also have the option of buying from Canada, at $15-$16/bale, but the superior quality of the California hay if well worth the additional $2. I don't know why it all comes from so far away - it seems like the only locally grown hay you can buy is Coastal, though.

  11. $5 a bale? Don't we wish! Down here in Miami, the price of hay has dropped all the way down to $14-$17 per square bale. It used to be as much as $20 per bale.
    And my barn only charges $500 per month, so she must not be making anything (althouh she does not have to pay for "leasing" the stalls).

  12. No one makes money boarding horses, unless they cut corners some where. Your numbers are pretty good. I've been boarding with my BO long enough that she's shared some #s with me.

    But for my area a 20 stall place would rent or mortgage at way more than $2000. Buying a 20 stall place is a minimum of $750,000 and even that is a "steal". Most places like that, assuming they come with a house and indoor, are well over a million.

    750,000 - 20% down = 600,000

    600,000 @ 6% interest for 30 years =

    And then you have property taxes which are high around here. Yearly property taxes on a modest home in my town, with no horse facilities are over $5,000. With commercial horse facilities is double or triple that.

  13. Here in Arizona our hay is about $11 for alfalfa, $15 bermuda. Shavings are $8/bag. Both substantially less by the truck if you can swing it.

    I would think electricity cost is a big out here for facilities with lights. During the summer the time to ride is night/early morning. The last barn I was pretty smart, they had two sets of lights: a handful of incandescent for normal riding, and strong "twenty-dollars-just-to-turn-on shop lights" for paying events/clinics.

  14. I definitely agree that one is not going to make money on it! But you can certainly save money in the process. Buying shavings by the bag is crazy expensive, much better to buy in bulk -- same for grain if you have a large operation. Also, if you take care of your pastures, they will fulfill most of your forage needs in the warm seasons and cut your hay costs substantially! (Helps if you live in the south where we have long warm seasons, LOL!)

  15. Although I also try not to think about the "price" of horse ownership, my horse is not an easykeeper so I pay extra for more hay, higher calorie feed, beet pulp, supplements and their distribution. We also use "Woody Pet" instead of shavings. The Woody Pet has less dust and expands quite a lot as it absorbs water. All-day turnout also saves shavings. ;)

  16. Good point, there is very little money to be made by boarding in a best case scenario. Interesting, too, how much costs vary from place to place. Here, we're paying about $15/bale for good hay. Course, we have grass year round so we don't need to feed as much.


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