Walk into your local feed store and ask for a ration balancer and see what happens...
...9 out of 10 times, the associate helping you is going to give you a blank look and then either:
If you happen to have one of the 10% or so of feed stores that actually know what a balancer is and carry one, consider yourself very lucky.
They look like most other pelleted feeds you find, and come packaged in 50 pound bags.
Even though they have been around for awhile, many people who own and work in feed stores, as well as horse owners in general, are not aware of balancers or what they are.
This is a shame in my opinion, as balancers are the best thing that has happened to the horse feeding industry in recent years.
A ration balancer is a very nutrient dense feed that is meant to be fed in very small amounts -- usually one or two pounds a day. It can be fed alone (in the case of easy keepers) or in conjunction with other feeds.
There are many benefits to using a balancer...so many in fact, that I gave the benefits their own page!
Ration Balancer Benefits
To quickly list some of the benefits, in general they are going to be:
Let's take a look at a few unique things about balancers:
They can be hard to find
Since, as mentioned above, most people don't know what they are, you can't just walk into a feed store and ask for a ration balancer.
Not only do people not know about them in general, but the feed companies don't help things. Some companies call them ration balancers, some call them diet balancers, and some even call them a supplement. Talk about confusing!
Instead, you need to do your research first, and go in armed with a specific product name instead of just asking for a balancer. Almost all national feed companies in the US make a balancer. If you go armed with a specific feed name, it makes it much less frustrating for you and the associate that helps you to find the correct feed.
Bonus points if you tell the associate its a balancer, to possibly help the next poor soul that comes along without doing their research!
There are two different kinds
There are two different kinds of balancers: one to feed with grass hay diets and one to feed with alfalfa diets. This is because the nutrients are formulated to complement your horse's diet.
If your horse consumes more than 50% of his forage in grass or grass hay, he should have the grass formula. So even if he gets a small amount of alfalfa every day, if the majority of his diet is grass hay or pasture, he should get the grass formula.
If he consumes more than 50% of his forage in alfalfa, then he should have the alfalfa formula. When figuring out what percentage of his diet is alfalfa, don't forget to include any grass he may consume when he is turned out to pasture.
The cost per bag can be deceiving
I told you earlier that it costs less to feed a balancer. However, when you walk into your feed store, a bag of balancer is going to cost around $25, while a high end sweet feed costs somewhere around $16. How can the balancer be cheaper?!?
It comes down to amounts that must be fed. Take a look at the following comparison, using a very well-known (and widely used) national brand's sweet feed for young horses compared to feeding a high-quality balancer:
|Horse: 700 pound yearling, moderate gain|
Sweet feed cost: $14/50 pound bag|
Sweet feed directions: 9.5 pounds/day
Ration balancer cost: $23/50 pound bag|
Ration balancer directions: 2.5 pounds/day
Sweet feed cost calculation:|
50 pounds/bag divided by 9.5 pounds/day = 5.26 days/bag
30 days/month divided by 5.26 days = 5.7 bags/month
5.7 bags/month x $14/bag = $79.80/month
Balancer cost calculation:|
50 pounds/bag divided by 2.5 pounds/day = 20 days/bag
30 days/month divided by 20 days = 1.5 bags/month
1.5 bags/month x $23/bag = $34.50/month
So, the balancer cost less than half the price of the high quality sweet feed when feeding the same yearling. Even if calories needed to be added to the balancer (which they probably will for a yearling), the overall feed bill is still going to be significantly cheaper.
Hopefully this information has answered most of your questions about what a balancer is and how you might utilize it in your horse's diet.
Here are the links to the other ration balancer pages on this site:
I hope you check out these great links to further understand ration balancers and how they can help your horse.