Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The make-believe barn manager: How much hay?

Bob and I talk about running a boarding barn -- after our lottery winnings are deposited and the hoopla dies down, that is. We envision a "money is no object" approach to horse care, with stalls available for close friends and a mini-retirement community for older horses. Free choice hay, 5 pasture acres/horse, and ample bedding are part of our plans.

And then there's reality
I'll letcha know when that happens. In the real world, barns operate within a budget. A  barn manager  tries to control variable costs like hay and shavings. This post focuses on managing hay costs and setting boarder expectations.

Some boarding contracts specify exactly how much hay is provided. I've seen this expressed as:

  • number of flakes a day
  • number of feedings per day
  • % of body weight (the horse's)
How much hay in contract?
I think it's smart to be fairly generous in the amount of hay quoted in the boarding contract.
  • First of all, knowlegable horse people will scrutinize hay amounts
  • Second, you don't really want everybody asking for extra hay -- it's an accounting/billing headache;
  • Thirdly, your staff will have to remember exceptions in addition to the regular rules (e.g., "feed three flakes except for Rosie's mom paid for 2 extra and Sugar's mom paid for 3 extra")
Six flakes a day to me would be an absolute minimum (e.g., for a barnful of easy keepers); eight would be more realistic. If I was a barn manager I might word the contract to state "2 am flakes, 2 lunch flakes, and up to 4 flakes at dinner (subject to seasonal changes and individual horse needs)."

But that's just me. Of course the post-lottery ticket barn contract will be a whole 'nuther story. "Do not feed more hay than you can lift."


  1. I have to laugh because I play the same game myself. If I win the lottery I'm gottna . . . I figure the buck to play is worth the few hours dreaming I get out of it.

    I have no idea how to answer your question but it makes me so happy to have my horses home where I can give them as much as I feel they need. Although the place that I had Kinsey at was pretty good. She have the horses a flake every few hours and then a little more at actual feeding times.

  2. Ironically, nearly every place I ever boarded, hay was always an issue of dispute at some time or another.

    I have a friend who boards her horse out now and supplements the hay as well, so times never change.

    My Boys are home, and I feed three times a day with three flakes in the AM, and two at each of the later feeds. So far, there's always a little bit left before the next feed, so I know I'm about on target.

    I keep thinking, though, that one of those big round bales in the paddock would be a nice addition. All they can eat buffet.

  3. Do you like people that much that you'd want to deal with them as a barn manager even if you didn't have to? You like the boarding farm milieu? After all, if you won the lottery you could afford a country property with enough pasture for your own horses and not deal with the public at all.

  4. Ironically, I like very few people and it's probably mutual :-). There are some folks that have shown such devotion to their horses that they just deserve a little slice of heaven for their horses, and themselves.

    And I think there's something a little sad about riding alone all the time. Barns are meant to be social, even if I'm not esp. social myself!

  5. As a boarder, I would be wary of any barn that specified the number of flakes/day--that can be highly dependent on the type of hay (which, in Florida, changes weekly depending on what the supplier can get), how and when it was cut and baled, the type of horse, how much work the horse is in at any particular time, and how long the horse spends inside each day. If my horse is in, I expect him to usually have hay in front of him, and I'm willing to pay what it costs. However, I'm uncomfortable being at barns that charge extra for extra hay, because then you can't really be sure that your horse is getting everything you're paying for. A good barn will feed all the horses as much hay as they need, and account for that in the base price of board.

    At my barn, where the horses go out 2-4 hours/day and are mostly in moderate work, they get a flake at breakfast, a flake when the first group goes out, another flake when the second group goes out, 2-3 flakes at lunch, a flake at 3, a flake around dinner, another 1-2 flakes around 6, and then another flake, if necessary, at night check.

    As a barn owner, I would find it too much of a pain to have to worry about who gets how much, and who paid for what. I would be much happier setting a fair price based on average hay consumption, with the understanding that some horses will require a little more, and some a little less (e.g. you come out ahead on some, and behind on others). Also, what if you set up the pay-by-flake system and an owner is too cheap to pay for the number of flakes her horse actually needed? If you covered the difference for her horse, you'd need to do it for other boarders; if you went by what she paid and the horse didn't get enough food, you--as the person boarding the horse--are ultimately legally liable for its body condition.

    The times I've found myself at barns that make hay an issue, I've left. I think skimping on hay is indicative of larger horse care problems, and I'd rather pay more than find out the hard way what those other problems are.

  6. This is definitely a sensitive topic for me personally. My horse is not an easykeeper and I pay considerably extra to give him enough grain, hay, beet pulp, and supplements. I know that the extra food costs more money, but my opinion is that the base food stuffs offered is not enough for any working horse, easykeeper or not. Sometimes I feel like I am penalized for my horse's high metabolism.

  7. Sarah, if your barn feeds 12 flakes of hay a day -- roughly a bale, or free choice -- you're probably at a different price point than I am. At $5 a bale a day, your barn would spend $150 on hay alone for your horse. Maybe they grow their own?

    There is a fairness issue with your one size fits all board -- that is, an easy keeper warmblood or QH may need less hay, but their owner subidizes the larger amounts of hay consumed by a hard keeper TB.

  8. Val, it's hugely sensitive for me too. My issue is not even paying, but getting managers to agree to feed more at all. Many moons ago, I boarded at a place where the workers were unsupervised. They would skimp on hay to save time and effort.

    The bottom line is, there is no money in boarding. The sad truth is, no barn is going to lose money to keep your horse in good weight...

  9. I would agree that 8 flakes would be the luck number. I have a hard keeper, TB gelding and he gets at least that on a regular day. On a cold day over one bale just for himself. As for an answer...can't help ya. lol Good luck!!

  10. I've wondered what it would be like to be a barn owner too. I think I'd go batty weighing the hay for each horse. Since I have 2 very easy keepers, and every bale of hay is different (some loose some tightly compacted), I weigh every portion of hay for each horse. I really like being able to know exactly how much I'm feeding and rarely do I pull a chunk off the bale and get the weight right when I try to eye it myself; I'm always pulling some off or adding more. That would be a huge pain if I was feeding 20 horses.

    But it would be great fun to have a small barn like your dream barn where the clients are good friends and special horses.

  11. If you kept your horses on your own property that doesn't mean you would have to ride alone. That's a matter of choice. (I prefer solitude myself, I'm a rustic recluse.) You always write from the perspective of a boarder, so it makes me think you've never had the EXTREME pleasure of keeping horses on your own place.

  12. I'm glad I'm on self-care. I don't have to worry about this. I buy my own hay, feed my own hay, and regulate everything myself. My old pasture mate's husband who fed in the AM didn't feed enough hay. Instead of getting mad, I just increased the hay at night. They're gone now, so I have a new pasture buddy who feeds the right amount of hay that I'm happy with.

  13. What type of hay are you feeding that your horse can eat an entire bale in a day?

    Around here (AZ) we give mostly alfalfa and bermuda grass hay. A bale of each will last approx. a week for most horses in the barn, if not longer! My mare gets 5 lbs of alfalfa and 4 lbs of grass morning and night and is chubby. The TB I'm hoping to buy is 5 and 5 plus a scoop of Strategy and maintains his weight.

    My BO charges extra for grass hay, and up it's up to 10 lbs of alfalfa/feeding. We pay more if we need more alfalfa than that. We also have an option for mid-day feedings, though those of us w/ my trainer team up to feed lunch. Each horse has a dry erase board w/ amount to be fed when, and the barn workers weigh the hay when they feed.

  14. Bella finally just got here from Florida. We now have 2 horses on our little acreage. 3 1/2 acres for 2 goats and 2 horses. We don't have a barn, we have a run-in with a paddock... so far (4 days) it's working beautifully!

    We're working onto pasture now, but they still have hay when they're in the paddock. We have a Tb mare that needs about 150# and a slightly chubby Fresian cross. It's hard when you do "across the board" hay prices.

    My favorite barn was where the owner/trainer had her own showhorses (mostly OTTBs) and really knew that all horses needed ample hay. There was a set price, and if your horse needed a bit extra, that was okay. If your horse needed 16# of grain, that was okay, too. If, in the morning, there was a bunch of extra hay, then that horse would get a little less that night. Or, if every-single-scrap was licked clean, then that horse might get a little extra. She is very good at judging horses.

    Currently, we're going through just over a bale/day with our two. I expect it to be substansially less, when they have free access to the pasture.

  15. I have been to many boarding barns and seen several different ways of handling this problem. One of the things I ran into the most is the quality of hay provided by the barn. I especially had trouble with barns that cut their own hay. I was boarding a percheron cross at the time who I nicknamed an "Air Fern" because she was such an easy keeper. I started to have trouble keeping weight on her and I knew there was a problem.

    I ended up buying my own hay and feeding it to her. I had to use a lot of tact not to up set the barn owner. I couldn't walk up to her and say "Your hay is terrible!" I think I fibbed a bit. I had a new horse that was coming to the barn and I said a bunch of hay came with him :). Hey when it comes to my horses health I've got to do what I've got to do.

    When it comes to feeding amounts of hay it is important to consider the quality of hay. Quality as to type (Orchard Grass, Fescue, Alfalfa) An Orchard Grass Alfalfa mix will go a lot farther than plain old first cutting fescue. You would also feed a lot less of the OG/Alfalfa mix.

    Quality Hay is my peeve because of the trouble I had at this farm. Now that I have my own farm I'm super picky about what I buy.

  16. Good gosh. 8 Flakes a day? I'd have A) a bucking butter ball (if I fed alfalfa) or B) bedding made out of his extra hay if I feed more than one flake of grass am and pm. Around here those are the only two choices for hay. I do have to supplement with beet pulp, gleam & gain and pellets but he is also a 4 yr growing TB getting worked 5/6 days a week. When I have him at home I put out a hay bag with bremuda grass that he can munch on when he feels like it. Normally takes a couple days to go through a few flakes.

    Around here-So-Cal- 90% of the horses at the barns I know get a max of 4 averages sized flakes of hay a day. (If the flakes are small they will feed more to make it equal an "average" flake) Maybe 6 if it is all grass (bremuda) hay. Many horses do get a lunch but it is more along the lines of a scoop or two of pellets/senior feed.-and costs extra.

  17. 80% of the reason I moved my horses to my property had to do with feed. The barns around my home feed sub par grains and want to do 2 flakes a hay twice daily. Turnout was also very hit and miss, even at the "nice-nice" barns.

    I rather be up at 7am year round, rain or shine to ensure 24/7 hay availability. Even with that I have a foal on Gastro Guard :/ I cant imagine how bad off he would be if he was sitting without hay 8 to 10 hours a day.

  18. I'd like to see a poll of how many followers here board vs have their own pasture.

  19. I just have to note on the $5 a bale! WOW! Around here the average is $20 a bale and $10 is pretty darn cheap. Boy, I wish I was in your parts of the country.

  20. Lol! I love this- I currently teach at a barn where the boarders had a meeting with the barn owner to complain about the amount of hay fed! The barn owner resonded that she has run a barn for 30 years and now has a barn full of "flake counters"! I think I'll e-mail her a link to this post! I just found your site from Literary Horse and I love it! - Suzanne


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