Grain Storage Tips
- Think “cool, dry, and bug-free.”
- Buy feed from a reputable dealer.
- Clean out your feed area weekly.
- Dump opened feed into bins with tight-fitting lids. Plastic trash cans are fine.
- Feed older feed before newer.
Storing horse grain improperly can lead to feeding spoiled horse grain, which can make your horse sick. And tossing out spoiled or molded horse grain will cost you extra money. With those concerns in mind, we asked three horse grain experts for advice about the best ways to store grain.
Our experts all agree that the primary considerations are keeping the grain-storage area clean, dry, and free of varmints, and that a cool, dry spot with good ventilation is important. That quickly led to a discussion of whether dumping grain into feed bins (trash cans) or leaving it in the bag was best. All three agree that dumping the grain into clean, dry bins is generally preferred.
Dr. Karen Davison, equine technical services manager for Purina Mills clarifies that the decision really has to do with how quickly you use open sacks of feed. She said that if you are going to be using up the sack in a few days and you have a clean, dry feed room, it is fine to keep the grain in the sack.
She said that since concrete tends to “sweat” or accumulate moisture, unopened feed sacks should be stacked on pallets to keep them off the floor. Dr. Doug Donovan at Poulin Grain adds that keeping the unopened sacks on pallets not only allows for good air circulation, but you’ll be able to see any little piles on the floor, thereby tipping you off that rodents are helping themselves to your grain.
Dr. Donovan explains that oxidation (a result of exposure to air and light) leads to a breakdown of nutrients in grain rations. So while you have to watch that sacked grain doesn’t become moist and moldy, you also have to keep moisture out of the feed bins by using tight-fitting lids. Trash cans are a popular storage option, and Dr. Davison and Dr. Donovan both mention the possible problem of condensation on the lids of metal cans, so suggested plastic as a better choice. Plastic cans are inexpensive, can be washed easily, and hold between 50 and 100 pounds of grain.
Dr. Jason Shelton, innovation development manager at Cargill Animal Nutrition (Nutrena Feeds), emphasizes that using the “first in, first out” method helps assure that you are feeding the freshest grains. He emphasizes good management, such as sweeping the feed area weekly, cleaning up spills immediately, and removing any broken bags.
That leads to our question of whether some feeds need more care than others. The experts all say, “Yes.” Special care should be taken with sweet feeds, higher fat feeds, or higher moisture feeds. The concern is that mold will form, fat will become rancid, or that insects will infest the feed.
Dr. Shelton points out that higher fat or higher moisture feeds have a shorter shelf life than lower fat or lower moisture feeds do. Pelleted feeds are processed at a higher temperature that usually includes a drying stage, so they normally have lower moisture levels than textured feeds. Climate plays a role, though. During cooler months or in dry locations, storage time may increase, but Dr. Shelton says 30 days is a good time frame.
Dr. Davison’s basic rule is 6 to 8 weeks for sweet feeds, and up to 8 to 12 weeks for pelleted feeds. She said that she looks at the manufacture date. She wouldn’t be concerned about buying a pelleted feed that was a month old if she was going to feed it within a month. But if a sweet feed was already a month old when she bought it, she’d want to feed it within a few weeks to be on the safe side. She’d allow the longer time in a cool, dry climate.
Dr. Donovan recommends a horse owner buy only a week’s supply at a time, though he says that many feed companies suggest keeping no more than a month’s supply.
What if, despite our best storage efforts, we have reservations about feed quality? How do we know that it has spoiled?
Dr. Davison says that any change in color, texture, or smell should be cause for concern. Molds are usually white or bluish, and sometimes pellets will clump together due to moisture prior to molding. She says to pay attention to your horse. If he appears less enthusiastic about eating, check your feed. Often horses will not eat moldy or damaged feed unless they don’t have a choice.
Dr. Donovan adds that while we normally think of fungi as mushrooms, and mold as the gray, fuzzy stuff that grows on food left in the refrigerator too long, damaging molds and fungi aren’t always easy to see. In fact, many of the spores associated with fungi are microscopic in their first stages of growth and not visible without a microscope. He advises looking for signs of moisture accumulation. He said that grain moisture can increase during storage, especially near the exposed top surface, and molding takes place in most feeds when the moisture content is above 16%.
Dr. Shelton mentions that mold does not always mean that mycotoxins are present in the feed, and the lack of mold doesn’t mean that mycotoxins are not present. Still, it’s best not to give the grain to your horse if you suspect that it may be molding.
When it comes to bugs, Dr. Shelton says that visual inspection isn’t always the best method. For example, mites can be a problem in feed storage in periods of high temperature and humidity, but mites can’t always be seen by the naked eye. There is, however, a simple test for mites. If you are in a relatively low-dust environment, wipe the bags free of dust, and if dust reappears again within two days, mites may be an issue. You may then need to look at the feed under a microscope to tell for sure.
Dr. Davison says that if you see weevils in a bag of feed, you can open it up or expose it to sunlight, and within a couple of hours the weevils will all be gone. Weevils like darkness and they hide when exposed to light. She said that most bugs like weevils are not really a health risk for the horse, but if weevils are allowed to remain in the feed for a length of time, they damage the feed and reduce its nutritional value.
So what about the use of fumigants to keep insect populations in check, since we’ve heard of farms that do this with large loads of grain? Our experts all discourage the use of fumigants or pesticides, and say that many bug problems can be prevented by buying fresh feed and storing it in a clean, dry, protected place. Dr. Donovan adds that accidental poisoning with fumigants can cause liver disease, and that since choosing to fumigate is expensive and dangerous, it’s important to be able to identify the insect and be sure there is an infestation.
So the experts agree: Invest in a good quality feed, and call the manufacturer if you have any questions or problems. Grain manufacturers go to great lengths to provide a product that is clean, dry, and bug-free. Once grain leaves the feed mill, it travels to the various dealers, who each have different storage situations. You’ll want to work with a?dealer who practices all the same storage and first-in, first-out precautions. When you’re buying grain, check the manufacture date or lot number on each bag to be sure that you’re getting the freshest feed. Storing grain safely isn’t complicated or expensive, but it does require a bit of work. However it’s worth it when you realize that you’re getting your money’s worth and doing the best for the horse that you love.