McCauley's Feed

The Scoop: Feeding by Weight Rather Than By Volume

by Amy Parker, M.S.

Ask anyone how much they feed their horse, and they will usually answer with the number of scoops, quarts, cups, or coffee cans. Ask an equine nutritionist for feeding recommendations, and they will answer with how many pounds (or kilograms) to feed. Is there a difference?

What is a typical scoop?

Defining a scoop can be a challenge. A visit to a local fann supply store yielded 5 different types of traditional feed scoops. Take into account the commonly used ‘unofficial’ feed

scoops-coffee cans, cups, yogurt containers, cut off milk cartons, soup cans, bowls, etc.-and the options increase even more. Feed scoops come in all shapes and sizes, and the amount of feed that each provides varies. Additional factors that may affect how much feed is measured by a scoop include the actual volume of the scoop, bulk density of the feed, degree of compaction of the feed, processing of the grains, and the person scooping the feed.

Volume versus mass (weight)

Feed scoops come in many shapes, and the volume of each differs. Volume is the amount of3-dimensional space occupied by an object as measured in units (e.g., quarts, liters, etc.). Volume measurements listed for scoops are only approximate. This means that two 3-quart scoops actually may have slightly different true volumes; therefore, the amount of feed provided by each would likely vary.

The bulk density, or weight per unit of volume (e.g., lb/qt), differs from one grain to another. For example, oats and corn each will have different weights even if measured in the same volume. The bulk density of corn is usually much greater than that of oats. Volume measures (e.g., scoops, quarts, etc.) do not provide a consistent weight from one feed or grain to another.

The following table provides an example of weight versus volume measurements. In this example, a 3-quart feed scoop was used to weigh various feeds.

Original 14 Cube Original 14 Pellet Original 14 Textured Top  Breeder Finisher 14
3.1 lb 3.1 lb 2.91b 3.1 lb 2.7 lb

Not all ingredients are created equal. Beet pulp and wheat bran, for instance, are very light ingredients, while corn is a very dense, heavier grain. A textured feed containing beet pulp will often weigh less than an all-grain textured feed. Even the same grain, such as oats, will have varying weights depending on the quality and any processing (e.g., cracked, rolled, flaked). The higher the quality oat, the more it usually weighs. The following table shows the weight of various ingredients when measured using the same 3-quart scoop as above.

Whole Oats Steam Crimped Oats Whole Shelled Corn Cracked Corn Beet Pulp Wheat Bran
3.25 lb 3 lb 4 lb . 3.75 lb 1.3 lb 1.4 lb

Scoop variables

Additional inconsistencies occur due to the slant at the top of many scoops. The slant makes it difficult to consistently provide the same amount of feed each time.

Person-to-person variation is yet another factor. Even when using a feed scoop that is easily leveled, the amount each person scoops often differs. Some people get heaping scoops, while others level the scoop, while still others pack the feed. How the scoop is leveled can further alter the amount of feed provided. Using a hand to swipe the scoop level versus shaking the feed level can make a difference, not just for how ‘level’ the feed is, but also how compact the feed gets in the scoop. One test of hand-swipe leveling versus shake leveling found nearly 0.25 pound per scoop difference with a pelleted feed. The following table shows the results of four people using the same feed scoop to measure the same textured feed.  The difference was as much as 1.2 pounds.

Person A Person B Person C Person D
3.2 pounds 3.5 pounds 2.3 pounds 2.75 pounds

A test of leveled feed (swiped by a hand) versus packed feed found nearly 1 pound difference, even though the same scoop was used. If a horse is receiving four scoops of feed per day, this could mean the difference between 8 pounds and 12 pounds of feed per day.

Knowing the horse’s diet

Ideally, every feed room would have a scale so that the feed could be weighed before each meal. This, however, is not practical for the majority of horse operations. A more realistic approach is to get a good estimate on the weight of the feed provided by the scoop. Most bathroom scales are not sensitive enough to accurately weigh a scoop of horse feed. Kitchen scales work well. If a kitchen scale is not available, then put a scoop of feed in a sealable bag. Take it either to the feed supplier or to the produce section of a grocery store (with their permission). Taking a few representative scoops in different bags will help provide an average scoop weight from which to work. If different people feed the horses at different times, take representative scoops from each person.

What about hay?

Hay is often fed in flakes, pats, sections, or squares. Like feed, nutritionists will quote the approximate pounds of hay a horse should receive. As much variation as there is in feed scoops, there is just as much, if not more, with hay. Balers usually provide a fairly consistent size bale within a lot (e.g, 50 pound bales), but are rarely able to provide consistent flakes within a bale, much less from one bale to another. The type of hay also may affect the flake size. Looking at three flakes from the same bale found weights of 1.2 pounds, 2 .1 pounds and 3.3 pounds.

To find the approximate weight of a flake of hay, use a bathroom scale or put a few representative flakes in trash bags and take them to the feed supply store. Knowing the average weight of a bale of hay can also help in determining approximately how much hay is fed. If the average bale is 50 pounds, then feeding roughly half of a bale each day provides the horse with approximately 25 pounds of hay.


Knowing the amount of feed the horse receives each day is beneficial in many ways. Obviously, it helps to make sure the horse’s nutrient requirements are being met. It may also help in making the horse’s diet more consistent, particularly if multiple people are responsible for feeding. Providing the nutritionist or veterinarian with specific information about the diet is useful should the horse have any healthcare issues. From an economic standpoint, knowing the pounds of feed provided each day can assist the horse owner in budgeting their horse care costs. Most importantly, having detailed information about the horse’s diet is one step to ensuring a healthy horse.

Meet Amy Parker, M.S.

Equine Nutritionist & Manager of Technical Services at McCauley Bros.

Amy Parker is a native of Lexington, KY and earned both her Bachelor of Science degree in animal sciences and Master of Science degree in equine nutrition from the University of Kentucky. During her tenure at UK, Amy worked as a graduate student teacher in the Department of Animal Sciences, assisted with 4-H horse shows and horse contests, and co-authored the Horse Industry Handbook’s Youth Leader’s Manual for the American Horse Youth Council, which is still being used today throughout the United States. Additionally, she authored or co-authored several scientific journal and meeting proceedings articles.

Following graduation in 1997, Amy began employment with McCauley Bros, a world-renown equine feed manufacturer in Versailles, KY, as an equine nutritionist and customer service specialist. Amy is known throughout Central Kentucky as an established technical resource for owners, trainers, youth, equine organizations, retail stores and team members. She also performs ongoing customer / market research for planning and forecasting and manages ongoing nutritional research, which includes weighing over 1500 horses each month on over 25 esteemed horse farms. Amy also taught equine studies courses at Lexington Community College from 2002 to 2004. If Amy is not consulting or weighing on a horse farm, you will find her assisting with new product developments, creating marketing designs and product promotions, writing technical newsletters or articles, working trade shows, giving seminars, or spending hours on the phone providing consultative nutrition support to horse owners and retail dealers across the United States. Amy is also a horse owner and enjoys trail riding and spending time with her family in her “spare” time.