In case you’ve been in a hole and haven’t been paying attention, we’ve been discussing the current state of the horse industry. So you can catch up and join in the discussion, you might want to start at the beginning:
We’ve been going through the paper written in a collaborative effort through the University of Utah. Today we’ll look at the Fourth Argument in favor of closing the U.S. Run Horse Processing Facilities.
Argument 4. Owners have other methods to deal with unwanted horses, such as euthanasia, burial, sell the horse, or send to rescue facility.
While many options have been available to horse owners, more of these are becoming less available and more expensive. According to Dr. Temple Grandin 25 percent of horse owners are low income owners (Grandin, 2007) and according to the American Horse Council low to moderate income families make up 45 percent of horse owners with an annual household income between $25,000 and $75,000 (Ahern, 2006). “More than two million Americans own horses, and more than a third of those owners have a household income of less than $50,000 (Prada, 2008). Any type of disruption of income can tip the scale when it comes to being a responsible horse owner. Many times these owners could count on making a little money at a sale but now the price for middle to lower end horses has severely dropped. Horses that a year ago would bring $400 – $500 now might bring $50 – $100 or might not sell (emphasis mine because I have horses that are gentle, well bred and I can’t give them away). One auction company stated that “a few years ago unwanted horses may have gone for $200 -$300. Now they are around $50 -$100 (Byrns, 2007) (*or $5-10/head in 2009- ask the local kill buyer in South Dakota). Devin Mullet, owner of Kalona Sales Barn, Iowa, said that for the “first time in my life I’ve seen livestock that has no value” (Einhorn, 2008). This drop in U. S. horse value after the processing plants closure was predicted two years earlier by North et al. (2005, p.14).
Due to high feed and hay prices many people can’t or don’t want the burden of continuing to feed a horse and others, including rescue facilities, can’t afford to take on any more horses due to the market and feed costs.
Chemical euthanasia by a veterinarian is a choice for horse owners in disposing of ill or chronically lame horses. This is expensive for the owner. Veterinary cost of euthanasia can range from $60 – $100 followed by the expense of disposing of the body. In many instances, due to environmental regulations, horses cannot be buried on site, but if allowed, the owner may well be looking at an additional $300 or more in costs if a backhoe is required (Ahern et al., 2006 p 7,8). According to Ahern et al., (2006) and North et al., (2005, p. 4) landfills have taken carcasses in the past but some are now banning carcasses or charging a fee. Rendering plants will remove carcasses but some now are charging a substantial fee or will not pick up individual horses (Ahern et al., 2006, p.8).
Rescue facilities across the country are feeling the pinch. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette indicated “every horse rescue and farm animal rescue that I deal with currently has a “no room in the inn” sign on their barn doors. They all have waiting lists” (Fuoco, 2007). The San Antonio Express News indicated that “…rescues struggle with too many horses, too little money and no national standards” (Sandberg, 2007). Dr. Mark Lutschaunig also confirmed there are not enough rescues and retirements facilities out there to handle these horses; most are full and cannot take in any more horses not only due to space but partly due to the expense (2007). Research by Utah State University also shows the similar results. Brian Dees, President of the Georgia Equine Rescue League, stated that “the number of unwanted horses has gone through the roof; the number of requests to take horses off a person’s hand has gone up by as much as 5000 percent”. Dees stated not having the harvesting facilities is one of the worse things that has happened to the U.S. horse industry (B. Dees, personal communication, January 3, 2008). According to Morgan Silver, Executive Director of the Horse Protection Association of Florida, a bigger mess has been created by the closing of the houses before the real problem of excessive breeding was addressed (M. Silver, personal communication, January 3, 2008). Bill Whitman, co-owner of Horse- Angels Ranch, Indiana, indicated contacts to his facility are up four fold. They are seeing younger horses people don’t want to take care of anymore and they don’t know how to deal with them (B. Whitman, personal communication, December 8, 2007). In an article Whitman stated last year “8,000 horses were sent from Indiana to Illinois for slaughter, but now slaughtering horses has been banned. With that avenue closed and more unwanted horses, “it’s going to be a nightmare” (Vierebome, 2007). Kathleen Schwartz, Director and Founder of Days End Horse Rescue, Maryland, said that they get 3 – 5 emails a day from people looking to get rid of their horses which their rescue has to turn away. While she gives them the names of local rescues, she knows they are already busting at the seams (K. Schwartz, personal communication, October 16, 2007). Jenny Edwards, Director of Hope for Horses, Washington, echoes other rescues by saying her rescue is full. She also noted in the past the horses they were involved with were usually in good condition when they received them. Now they are seeing horses that are more sickly which increases time of stay and ultimately rescue costs. Horses that would have gone to slaughter in the past now languish longer in pastures and are in poorer condition when rescues receive them, making it harder on rescue facilities (J. Edwards, personal communication, October 25, 2007). Jennifer Williams, Director of Blue Bonnet Equine Humane, Texas, voiced concerns over groups supporting the antislaughter bill when they say the market will correct itself and then they walked away. Rescues now have to take care of the problem which she felt was very short sighted (J. Williams, personal communication, November 13, 2007). According to North et al. (2005, p.14) “if these horses are not euthanized, caring for each horse will cost rescue facilities approximately $2,340 per year, depending on location.”
Not discussed in the above paper are the numbers from the Animal Welfare Council’s February 2010 report:
This report shows that horses are now valued at around 40% of the worth they had in 2005. That’s a pretty steep price decline. This same report- by industry experts and veterinarians- said that the industry was warned that the closure of the plants would lead to an increase in abandoned and unwanted horses, and would severely strain rescue facilities as well as sheriff’s departments and local municipalities. According to the report “over 90% of those polled indicated the number of neglected and abused horses is increasing.” Furthermore, “Experts said the closure of the USDA-regulated plants would lead to increased equine neglect, abuse, and malnourishment. It did. There are many reports documenting the rise in neglect, abuse and abandonment including one from the Colorado Department of Agriculture stating that the number of equine cruelty investigations in Colorado rose 60 percent from 2005 to 2009.”
The idea that we will never have unwanted horses and will never need to have a processing facility, is Utopian in theory at best; the trouble is, there will always be horses that are unwanted. Despite the best training, despite education, even despite some who have the idea that we should charge a fee to breed every mare. I’m not even sure where or how you’d regulate that, but that’s not the point. The point is the current situation. We’ve not saved a single horse from slaughter. We’ve made them take a longer trailer ride; we’ve put them in at least one country where there is little, if any regulation, where those people don’t have the same respect and regard for our animals as we do, and in many instances we’re prolonging their life, because it costs a person money to feed them, and they’re not feeding them well, or at all, so when they are “rescued”, they’re in terrible shape.
Something else to be noted- even if you can afford to euthanize the horse- is the additional kill rate of animals that consume the euthanized horse and ingest the poisons (page 10).
If a person can’t sell the horse, can’t give it away, and can’t afford to feed it, prey tell, how do you expect that person to be able to afford to euthanize it and dispose of the carcass? And to take it further, why would a person want to euthanize a perfectly good horse? At the very least with the processing plants open, they had the option of feeding someone who chose to eat it and if their horse was ride-able, gentle, even if it was grade (unregistered) it had a decent value. Today, a horse like that is a dime a dozen and pretty much worthless. And in case you forgot- we ate a lot of horse meat in this country during World War II and during the 70s. So don’t go there. With a horse having little to no value, unless it’s a bang up rodeo horse, reiner, cutter or hunter (for example) what does the person who makes up the majority of owners in our industry do with their horse they can’t sell, give away, feed, or afford to euthanize?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- we’re so concerned with what happens to the horse at death we have forgotten to be concerned with it while it is alive. This series is about to wrap up, and as always I’m open to discussion, but if you can’t be nice, don’t bother.