Horse owners face rising feed expenses (US)

Published on Sunday, July 06, 2008
By McClatchy Newspapers
Last modified on 7/6/2008 at 1:03 am
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AMARILLO. Texas – Feed the family or feed the horse? It’s a question horse owners across the nation face in light of the rising food, fuel and hay costs.

Hay prices have increased from 50 percent to 100 percent the last few years, according to Don Topliff, associate dean of agriculture science and engineering at West Texas A&M University. He attributes part of the hike to increased fuel costs and farmers switching to more lucrative crops.

Droughts and the demand for fuel alternatives produced by farm products also influence prices, said Leon Church, Potter County agriculture extension agent.

Owners can combat higher prices by purchasing lower-quality hay. Otherwise, owners will just have to fork over the money.

“There’s not much else you can do but bite the bullet,” Topliff said.

Dry conditions have made it harder to find hay, said Bushland Mercantile manager Bruce Blake, and fuel costs make transporting hay more expensive.

Kyler Hale, manager of Foust Feeds, agrees.

“Everything’s pretty high, and the price of fuel has got the biggest hand in it,” Hale said.

Grass and alfalfa hay runs about $9 for a small square bale, Hale said. Depending on its breed, a horse can eat about 20 pounds of feed a day.

Leon Robertson, owner of Golden Horse Training Center, said the high prices have had little effect on his stables. “I do see less travelers, and I get a few less phone calls,” Robertson said.

But his tenants, who pay for their own feed, seem to be keeping up with prices.

“We’re not affected here like they are on the West Coast,” he said, commenting that some overnight tenants from California were paying $15 for a bale.

“It’s just terrible,” horse owner Rhonda Cardwell said of rising food and fuel costs.

Cardwell boards her two horses in a stable outside of town.

Besides the $80 it costs to fill her tank, Cardwell pays about $150 for the monthly stall rent in the winter. Other expenses include feed, bedding, vet bills and farrier bills to trim hooves every six to eight weeks, which can cost $35 per horse.

“I’m trying to sell one (of the horses) today to minimize some of the costs,” Cardwell said.

She has also had to cut back on riding lessons for one of her daughters.

“We’re not struggling like I’ve seen a lot of people do,” Cardwell said. “But I think if you don’t start cutting back, you find yourself in bad shape.”

Although she doesn’t want to, Cardwell may have to sell her other horse, she said.

“I’m not going to get what I paid for the horse,” she said. “I probably won’t get half, and she’s a pedigree, a registered horse.”

Texas Rep. David Swinford says the market for good horses is strong. It’s the old horses he’s worried about.

“There’s a lack of places to take crippled or old horses, and it’s affecting everything you do,” Swinford said. “We’re a little stuck.”

Some people blame the closure of U.S. horse slaughterhouses for the number of excess horses.

“We really needed it,” Greg Veneklasen, owner of Timber Creek Veterinary Hospital, said of the ability to slaughter horses. “Not only do we have high hay prices, but we have extra horses.”

“I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the prices of horses have gone to nothing,” said Bruce Blake, manager of Bushland Mercantile. “Because there are a lot people who want to get rid of horses and can’t.”
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About 45,000 of the 9.2 million horses in the United States were shipped to slaughterhouses in 2007, according to the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association.
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