By Alannah Sperr, University of MN Extension intern, Wright County
Hay burner and lawn ornament are two of the more popular terms used to describe horses in the ag world. If you’re looking to invest in a horse, you should know the facts first.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the state of Minnesota has, as of 2017, 46,879 horses recorded and 8,000 horse farms, which equates to about 5.86 horses per farm. In Wright County, there were 1,252 horses recorded, accounting for 3 percent of the total Minnesota horse population.
As far as land usage goes, the standard rule of thumb is to assume that each horse needs two acres of land to graze and be turned out onto for daily exercise. Using this information, we can determine in Wright County alone, horses account for approximately 2,504 acres of land being used in the area.
In order for a horse to maintain its weight, it must consume 1.5-3 percent of its body weight each day. Anything less than 1.5 percent would result in weight loss and potential digestive issues. If you own a horse that weighs 1,100 lbs., your horse would need to eat a minimum of 16.5 pounds per day to maintain its current body weight.
In the wintertime, feeding can become more of a challenge. A large part of a horse’s diet should include roughage, such as grass hay, which supplies fiber to the animal and keeps the digestive tract in good shape. To maintain an adequate amount of roughage in the diet, most horse owners need to feed hay in the winter, either from square bales or round bales. The average cost of a 50-pound square bale is $5 to $6, with prices fluctuating based on supply, demand, and quality of the hay. A large round bale averages $75 to $100, also fluctuating throughout the year.
Going back to our previous 1,100 lb. horse scenario, if you fed square bales all winter at the minimum requirement, each square bale would last your horse just three days. Depending on how long the winter lasts, you could be in for nearly $1,000 in hay costs alone. This does not include the cost of grain supplements that many horses need in their diet.
Horses also require veterinary visits as well as visits from the farrier and dentist. Veterinary costs can vary based on the severity of the injury and time of the call, with night calls often charging you $100 for an after-hours fee. The average cost of a farrier can range from $30 to $100 each visit depending on if your horse needs shoes or not and the condition of its feet. Normally, your horse will need to see the farrier every six to eight weeks to maintain proper hoof health.
A safe assumption would be that you should set aside $2,500-$3,000 each year to pay for the costs associated with your horse. Using the 2017 statistic from USDA, that means Wright County’s 1,252 horses help contribute between $3.13 $3.76 million dollars to the economy annually, with a large portion of that staying local.