Just this morning I visited a farm where the owners told me that they were considering stopping their rescue operation. Increasing expenses have made it hard for them to continue providing just the basic daily care for the animals they have saved.
The times are hard financially. It’s especially difficult for horse owners who pay out more each month for hay, grain, and everything else that comes by truck. The price of bedding skyrockets as mills use their shavings and sawdust as fuel.
In spite of the costs, we continue to keep our horses, sacrificing in other ways to stay afloat. Horses are part of our lives, and for most people whose farms I visit, an empty barn is not an option. However, I do think there is a limit on how many horses one should have. That number is different for every one. It’s all about the size of the pocketbook.
Here is how to do the math, taken one step at a time. Let’s keep it simple and say that you have just one horse, and it is kept at home. One of the biggest expenses is simple care and feeding. An average 1000 pound horse will eat about ¾ of a bale of hay per day. That’s about 23 bales per month, times the number of months that you feed out hay, times the price / bale. Do the same arithmetic for the bags of grain and supplements that you feed per year times the price per bag or container. Now calculate bedding cost. If you board your animals out the math is simpler, but, of course, a lot higher. Multiply out the board bill per month times 12 for the year, or fraction of the year that you are boarding.
Work out the numbers for the farrier bills for shoeing or trimming for the year. Take old receipts from your vet for the past 2 years and average those out for routine care like shots and dental work. Add in the worm medicine for the year. Multiply by the number of horses and you have a pretty good idea of what your horses cost you per year. Because of the increasing cost for everything I’d budget an additional 10%. Are you beginning to understand why you might be a little short each month?
Here is the problem from the point of view of an equine veterinarian who is on horse farms in Maine year round. At least twice a month I will visit a farm and find a situation that requires hospitalization. Let’s say the chances of recovery are good, but the bill is estimated at $2000. If your horse numbers are such that you might be able to afford this, perhaps with some stretching, then you are apt to go for it. If your horse population is so high that you struggle each month just to provide the basics, a bill of $2000 might be completely out of the question, and it will be the horse that suffers.
We all realize that horses are expensive to keep. My recommendation is that your horse numbers be kept to a point where basic care is absolutely guaranteed, even in today’s economy. Our animals should be eating well, have plenty of bedding, regular dental and foot care and good preventive veterinary care. I know of many horses that were purchased or taken in because someone felt sorry for them and just wanted to get them out of a bad situation. I have a donkey myself that I bought for that very reason. Accept too many “free” animals and you’ll find yourself skimping on good health essentials because you can’t afford it. Ignoring good basic care doesn’t pay in the long run. Have the horses that you can afford to care for. Give them a good life.
-David A. Jefferson, DVM