Managing Bulk Feed Bins
By Dr. Karen Davison
Manager, Equine Technical Servicebulk-feed-bins
Purina Animal Nutrition

Owning several horses can be expensive. So horse owners often look for ways to cut costs without sacrificing their animals’ nutrition. Getting feed in bulk can be one way to reduce the cost of feed without reducing the quality and nutrient content by switching to a “cheaper” feed. And bulk feed can be labor saving and convenient as well. But before switching to bulk feed, you should consider a check list to help decide if doing so is the best choice for your situation. If you choose to use bulk feed, it’s important to understand the management practices necessary when using bulk bins to store it. Bulk feed customer check list:

  1. How much feed do you use? – Often horse owners want bulk feed when they have 5 – 10 horses. Since bulk feeds are usually offered in a minimum of 10,000 lb deliveries, it may not be feasible for a smaller farm to use bulk feed. It would take nearly 6 months for 10 horses to eat 10,000 lbs and in most climates and conditions, that is much longer than you want feed to sit in a bulk bin. Ideally, you’d like to receive fresh feed every 30 – 45 days. That would dictate a minimum operation size of 35 – 40 horses eating 6 lbs each per day.
  2. What product do you use and is it available in bulk? – Bulk horse feeds are primarily pellets because sweet feeds with molasses do not flow through bulk containers well and are more prone to mold. Always check with the feed dealer or representative to see if a product is available in a bulk option.
  3. Can a bulk truck get into your facility? – Delivery of bulk feeds can be a problem if a delivery truck can’t get into the facility. Communicate with your sales representative to
    understand what type of bulk delivery is available in your area and what size trucks are available. Feed dealers with a large number of bulk accounts may have their own trucks and
    often these are smaller trucks. However, in these cases, extreme care must be taken regarding what other feeds are delivered in the trucks. If medicated cattle feeds are delivered in the
    trucks, the potential for contamination of the horse feed is a risk that should be considered seriously before ordering feed.
  4. Do you have a viable bulk storage container? – Bulk feed containers should be accessible to delivery trucks, closed to prevent rodents and other animals from getting to the feed, water
    proof and easy to empty and clean. Storing feed directly on concrete floors is not a good idea due to condensation and increased risk of molding. If possible, a bulk bin should have a
    gravity feed dispenser instead of an auger, as augers tend to damage pellets and cause too many fines (pellet dust). If you don’t have a bulk bin, many feed dealers can help you locate and set
    one up. Be sure you check the cost of the bin compared with the potential savings in bulk feed to make sure it is a wise investment over the long-term.

If at this point you feel bulk feed might be the right option for you, first consider the important issues of bulk feed container maintenance.

  1. Empty and clean container between loads – This is the most critical issue with bulk feed bin maintenance. In most bulk bins, feed flows down the middle after falling from the sides. This
    means that the feed on the edges of the bottom, or cone, of the bin will be the last to come out. If a new load of feed is delivered while there is still feed in the cone, you can have feed that never comes out. Over time, it will deteriorate and often begin to mold. Then, the one time the feed bin runs nearly empty, this feed will fall out and, if fed to horses, can be a health hazard. It is much safer to time delivery when you can empty the bin out. If you have to buy sacks to feed for a couple days, that is a better option than risking old feed staying in the bin. Larger farms may decide to install two bulk containers, allowing them to empty one, order feed, and then feed out of the second bin while they wait for the new load to arrive. They alternate back and forth so each bin is completely emptied out and checked for feed stuck to the sides before new feed is delivered.
  2. Check for weevils – Weevils love dark cool places and will show up in a bulk feed container at some time, regardless of how clean the bin is kept and how fresh the feed is delivered. Weevils
    themselves don’t pose a health risk to the horse. The concern with weevils is when they remain in the feed long enough to damage the pellets and compromise the nutrient value of the feed. If
    the feed bin is cleaned out every load and fresh feed brought in every 30 – 45 days, that scenario is much less likely. If you notice weevils in the feed, often just opening up the bin and
    exposing it to sunlight and air flow will cause the weevils to go away. When feed is put in a wheelbarrow or feed cart from a bulk container that contains weevils, the weevils will go away
    within a couple hours if the cart is exposed to sunlight and air.
  3. Watch for mold – Some bulk containers don’t have enough ventilation or air flow. And sometimes feed delivered very quickly from the plant might not have completely cooled down.
    In a bin with little or no ventilation, the feed can heat up and is much more likely to mold, especially in hot, humid climates.
  4. Check the container periodically for leakage – Water leaks are a big problem for pelleted feed. Water breaks down the pellets, making them clump together and stick to the sides of the
    bin where they can mildew. It is critical to check the inside the bin for clumps of feed stuck to the sides or for areas of rust and make appropriate repairs when necessary.

Many horse owners like the idea of bulk feed delivery for the convenience of not having to pick up feed at a store, not having to dispose of large quantities of feed sacks and less labor at feeding time since they don’t have to empty sacks into a feed wagon. Also, for large operations, bulk feed can offer a significant savings over time. When proper bin management is employed, bulk feed can be a helpful option to many horse facilities. But when proper bin management is not followed, bulk feed can be a headache for the horse owner and a potential health concern for the horse.