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Cutting Costs Without Cutting Corners

Posted by Avishay04, 27 March 2012 · 466 views

I have three horses, and like most of the horse-owning population, I'm not exactly swimming in cash like Scrooge McDuck. I happily forgo fancy meals, vacations, and sleeping past 6:00 AM so my dear ponies can live like the king and queens they think they are. And while every horse owner has little tips and tricks to keep their horses from breaking the bank, I'm always thinking about what I can do to get more bang for my hard-earned buck.

So may I present to you my tried-and-true top ten ways to cut costs without cutting corners:

10. Buy items out of season.
In the winter, tack stores, catalogs, and online retailers dump excess inventory of summer and fall items. November-February is the best time to purchase non-perishable items like fly sheets and masks, fly spray concentrate, and even show attire. In the summer, you can get winter blankets, cold-weather breeches, muck boots, and wet-weather gear at a hefty discount. Most of the time you'll find odd sizes or garish color combinations are the majority of what's left when you buy out of season, but if you're willing to dig to the bottom of the bargain bins or click through pages of items online, you may find just the little gem you're looking for, at a price that won't make you cringe.

9. Buy in bulk.
While you may not do a lot of barn supply shopping at Costco or Sam's Club (though I have), buying the right things in bulk is the way to go. Many catalogs and online stores offer bulk discounts. Items like deworming paste, shampoo, and vet wrap have a very long shelf life, and you'll often see multiples available when you buy a minimum number of units. If you have more than one horse, daily or regular-use items are worth buying in bulk. However, if you board or have neighbors with horses, consider going in together to get better deals on things you all need. For example: if you're okay with administering your own vaccinations, consider buying a 10-dose vial from a vet supply catalog and splitting it with friends. I do that and save about $2-$5 per vaccine.

8. Keep records
Keeping detailed records of what you buy and when, and what you give your horse(s) and when can save you more than you realize. Write down what you do and keep the information in an easy-access place.If you have an iPhone or Android phone, there are several inexpensive apps that can keep track of your horse's info and your barn activities so that you don't make a potentially expensive mistake. I have dry erase boards everywhere because other people also handle my horses and I handle a lot of horses that aren't mine. Just being able to check off if a horse got his meds, supplements, or whatever else can prevent waste from unused/expired products and overdosing.

7. Recycle
There are lots of ways to recycle. I use Smartpaks for all my horses, so I don't have a ton of supplement buckets lying around, but I do collect other people's empty buckets. Turning them into wash buckets, feed buckets, or giving them to non-horsey family and friends is a great way to keep them out of the trash and out of the barn. Why pay $7 for a bucket when I can get one for free? Yes they may not last as long as a bucket designed for use around the barn, but they didn't cost me a dime and I don't feel bad when my 1400 lb lummox squashes them. Other ways to recycle and save your green? Have a muck bucket or trash can labeled for beverage bottles in your tack room. I collect my own bottles and cans, as well as those of my students and by the end of the month, I've got an extra $20 in my pocket. Heck, keep your old horse shoes and "recycle" them on ebay or Craigslist - you'd be surprised how many people want used horseshoes for their arts & crafts or home improvement projects and are willing to pay to get them!

6. Compost
If you keep your horses at home, composting is a great way to save money. Even if you usually spread your manure as part of your rotational grazing program, hold on to some of that poop - it's actually pretty valuable! Research good composting practices (or PM me), and turn your horse's road apples into cash. Lots of stables and horse owners give away their manure, but aged compost that the average home owner can pick up and use directly is much more desirable. So long as you have enough space and a few hours a month to dedicate to it, composting could be for you. If you have landscaping that could benefit from a little compost, like fruit trees or flower beds, composting your own manure properly is just as good, if not better, than most commercially prepared fertilizers.

5. An ounce of prevention...
It's really true - being preemptive and prepared will always save you money down the road. Don't wait for a little project to become a big one requiring more time or cash to complete. This is especially true for horse care. If you suspect something is wrong with your horse, it usually isn't in your horse's (or your wallet's) best interest to play the 'wait and see' game. Vets and farriers don't charge for a phone call, and getting the right person out in a timely fashion may keep you from writing a bigger check hours or days later. But prevention goes even further, using good barn and horse maintenance practices goes a long way to reduce the risk of injury or illness for horses and humans alike. This principle also includes buying for quality. A few cents or a few dollars more up front will pay dividends later in most cases. Tack is a perfect example of this. Buying quality tack and taking good care of it can prevent injury to you and your horse, which will ultimately save you money for years to come.

4. Let's make a deal!
Learn how to negotiate, haggle, and trade. Don't be afraid to make offers! Chances are if you are knowledgeable about what you want and what you have to spend or trade, you can find someone who is willing to make a deal with you. Be honest, and if you're not sure, take someone whose judgement you trust along with you. The horse industry is still very much open to wheeling and dealing, and it doesn't always take cash in hand to get what you want. Goods, services, and old-fashioned labor are all valuable commodities. Even so, while a handshake and a person's word used to be good enough to seal the deal, in today's litigious society - the "CYA" rule applies. Get it in writing if you even THINK that the situation may warrant some documentation, even if that documentation is just a confirming email or a quick IOU scribbled on the back of a feed label.

3. Coupons and Promotions
Just like toothpaste and cereal manufacturers, companies that make products for horses issue all sorts of coupons that mostly go unnoticed. You don't have to be an "Extreme Couponer" to take advantage of the discounts and rebates companies offer. Farnam, Select The Best, and Smartpak (just to name a few) issue coupons in print and on their websites. Go on the website for the manufacturer of just about any equine product you buy (but especially those for feed and supplement companies), and you'll be surprised at how many money-saving codes you'll find. And if you can't find a coupon or discount code for a favorite product, or one you'd like to try - run a Google search or email the company directly. Other ways to find great coupons and rebate deals include: national and local equine print media, equine fairs, horse shows, and special events where company reps set up info booths or give demos. Promos are great as well. Promotions include BOGO offers, limited-time or limited-inventory deals, or special-event pricing, as well as samples. Many companies will send you free samples of their products upon request. That's especially helpful if you have a picky eater like I do! I regularly Google my favorite product names along with keywords like "promotion" "discount" "coupon" and "sample" just to see what I turn op. Most companies have limits on how much/how often you can request freebies or use coupons, so respect their limits and don't try to cheat the system, but do take advantage of what they have available.

2. Share
We all learned how to do it in kindergarten, so set a good example for any preschoolers in your life and find ways save money though sharing. That may mean getting together with a couple of barn buddies or neighbors to share a vet's call fee for routine care, or sharing your trailer with a trusted friend (with a contract, of course) so that neither of you have to bear the full expense of it's upkeep or storage fees. Share big purchases like a truckload of hay or bedding - if you buy good quality at a reasonable price, you can almost always find someone to split the cost with you. Carpool with a friend to the barn or tack store, if possible (I don't know about you, but gas where I am is about $4.40 a gallon, and picking up a friend or student on my way and splitting the gas even 2x a week can make a difference). Finding ways to share can also save you time and hassle, leaving you more time to spend with your horse - which is worth it's weight in gold.

1. Don't feed or supplement wastefully.
This is by far the biggest way I see horse people just bleed money. If you have pasture, you may only have to feed hay in the winter. If your horse is stalled, or kept in a dirt lot, you might feed hay several times a day or free-feed. Even if you board and your hay or pasture is provided, there are numerous ways to avoid feeding wastefully. If you feed hay, use a slow-feeder, hay nets, or rubber mats to reduce waste and to make hay last longer. Buy the best quality hay you can, and test it if you can store enough hay to make testing worth your while. Knowing what's in your hay (even if it means asking your barn owner/manager for the analysis results) will let you know what you may need to supplement for in order to keep your horse(s) at optimum health. Knowing the protein, NSC, and mineral content of your hay can also help prevent dangerous over-supplementation, as unbalanced calcium to phosphorous ratios, selenium levels, and in the case of HYPP horses the potassium levels, can impact your horse's health. Also, avoid over-feeding hay. Because of the way hay is grown and cured, 1 lb of hay will often provide more calories than 1 lb of pasture. That is, because pasture grass is mostly water, a horse needs to eat more pasture (by weight) than hay to meet his nutritional requirements. When feeding hay, be sure to weigh your bales/flakes (unless you're using round bales, of course). Generally speaking a horse should eat no less than 1% of his body weight in hay per day, with hard keepers and horses in more work eating up to 3.5% of their body weight in forage per day. Weigh your horse regularly and adjust the amount of hay he gets accordingly to help keep him at an optimal body condition. Guessing how much your flakes weigh can result in a lot of waste, so stationing an old bathroom scale in your hay shed can be a real money saver.

If you have pasture, use good maintenance techniques to get the best quality pasture you can, and contact your local Ag extension office or talk to hay growers in your area so that you're getting the most nutrition out of your pasture without wasting water or needlessly amending your soil. Use cheap fencing options like t-posts and electric braid or tape to create "sacrifice" areas to feed hay and save your pasture from being torn up in wet weather. If you have more pasture than you need, consider renting it out or growing your own hay on any unused acreage.

Most recreational use horses don't need grains or extra feed. If your horse needs more calories than hay or pasture can provide in order to maintain his weight, or if he's in moderate to hard work and needs extra feed to keep up his condition and stamina, talk to your vet, the feed rep of your favorite feed manufacturer, or an equine nutritionist. Read labels and weigh your feed ("a scoop" or "a coffee can" or "a cup/a quart/a gallon" are NOT units of measurement!). If your horse is getting more than he needs, you're wasting money. If he's not getting enough, you may have to try to fill in gaps piecemeal, by using expensive supplements. If you want to feed something, "just so he gets something/doesn't feel left out at grain time" or to put needed medications or supplements in, consider using locally milled products to reduce cost, and only feed what you need. For medications or supplements, a 1/2 lb of hay pellets or rice bran is usually sufficient.

If your horse needs supplements, read ingredient labels carefully. There is a lot of research available that can tell you what ingredients are needed in what amounts or combinations in order for your horse to benefit. Read up on what you're supplementing with - look into scholarly articles in reliable publications and on reputable websites, check out independent customer reviews, and talk to your vet. If you think your horse needs more of/a stronger supplement, make changes gradually or one at a time to avoid wasting money on supplements that he won't eat or that have ingredients he doesn't need or that aren't in the right amounts for him. Don't just select the cheapest or most expensive or most trendy supplement, either. Do your research to avoid spending money on the wrong supplement, as they're often non-returnable.

In short, be a savvy consumer; educate yourself and take the time to periodically review what's working for you and your horse(s) and what isn't. Trim the fat where you can, but don't skimp on quality just to save a buck.

October 2016

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