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Scoops Measure Volume, Not Weight: A Reminder from Dr. Getty

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

The directions on most feed bags offer guidelines in terms of the number of pounds (or kg) you should feed. If you use a scoop to measure your horse’s feed, how many pounds are you actually feeding? Are you assuming that a 2-quart scoop, for example, offers 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of feed? This can be a dangerous assumption.

Scoops provide volume--they measure quarts or liters; they tell you nothing about weight. Even those scoops that offer weight measurements on the outside are estimates at best, because it depends on what you put in the scoop that determines the weight. One quart of marbles is going to weigh more than one quart of cotton balls. By the same analogy, one quart of oats is going to weigh more than one quart of shredded beet pulp.

Knowing how much you are feeding is important for several reasons. First, your horse can potentially become obese from too many calories. Second, since the stomach is relatively small, it can only process a small amount of food at a time, so supplemental meal size should be limited to no more than 4 pounds (1.8 kg) for an 1100 lb (500 kg) horse. Finally, following the manufacturer’s directions is the best way to ensure that your horse is getting all of the vitamins and minerals listed on the label, otherwise additional supplementation will be important, and the only way to follow manufacturer’s directions is to weigh the feed.

A scale is a must-have piece of equipment for any barn. Weigh your feed and mark your scoop so you do not have to weigh it each time you feed. If you change feeds, be sure to weigh the new feed; do not rely on the previous measurement.

Juliet M. Getty, PhD, is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at Dr. Getty’s website,, as well as from Amazon ( and other online book retailers. Reach Getty at