When you shop in the grocery store, do you reach to the back of the dairy section to find milk with the longest ‘best by’ date? If you’re like many of us, you probably check dates and make sure your family is getting the freshest product on the shelf. Shopping for horse feed is a little different but with a little practice, you will be able to find the freshest feed for your horses.
Manufacturers are not required to put a ‘best by’ date on horse feed. So how do we know if this feed is still “good” and safe for our equine companion or athlete?
They may not have a ‘best by’ date, but all feed manufacturers must have a ‘date of manufacture’ on their bags or tags. This is a federal requirement and gives you valuable insight as to how “fresh” the bag of feed is. The manufacture date may be in different formats and it may be in different places on the bag or tag.
Some manufacturers will print the date codes on the back, lower part of their bags in a simple date format such as: 09072017 representing September 7, 2017.
Others will print their date codes directly on the feed tag using a day-month-year format 18OCT13 or October 18, 2013.
There are still a few feed manufacturers who use what’s called a Julian date. The Julian date code is first represented by the year, so for 2014, there would be a 4. The next 3 numbers will represent the “day of the year”. January 1st is labeled as 001 and for December, 31st, you would see 365. A quick “google” search should help you find a current Julian date calendar.
If you’ve looked for the date code and cannot find one that is immediately recognizable, ask the store clerk to help you. An alternative is to call the manufacturer directly and ask them where the date code is and how to read it.
How Old Is Too Old?
Generally, it will take 6 to 9 months for degradable ingredients like vitamins to diminish below guarantees, but for best quality, feed should be used well before that time. For optimum freshness and palatability, we recommend feed be used within 60 to 90 days from the ‘date of manufacture’ to avoid problems such as drying out, mold or insect infestation. These dates may have some variability based on the type of horse feed and where you live and the time of the year. For example, a pelleted feed can have a longer “use by date” due to the higher temperatures in which they were pelleted. Additionally lower fat feeds can have a slightly extended “use by date” too. Feeds will also stay fresher typically in cooler weather and when kept in a climate controlled environment. During the hot/humid summer months, feeds may become moldy if stored too long. We recommend feeding products as close to the manufacture date as possible – during these months, ideally 30-60 days.
When purchasing feed, select bags that look nice; avoid dirty, ripped or torn bags.
Never feed moldy or insect infested feed to horses and never store your horse feed near “medicated” feeds designed for other animals.