Friday, September 12, 2008

They eat horses, don't they?

I saw a short sidebar article in the Statesman, about 11 horses abandoned in Oregon. The horses were auctioned off at between $5 and $45.

There is a glut of horses right now. Feed prices have shot up (thanks, ethanol). Apparently one of the biggest factors was the closing of the only two remaining horse slaughterhouses in the US. Used to be that the slaughterhouses paid a base price, and sold the meat to Japan and France. Once the slaughterhouses closed, excess horse capacity developed, there was nothing to keep up a base price, and the price plummeted.

Given high fuel, i.e. shipping, it's also too expensive to ship them to Canada or Mexico. So, people are just abandoning the horses, which sometimes starve to death. Talk about unintended consequences.

Given Idaho's proclivity to live and let live when it comes to animals (reference dog and cock fighting), it's a wonder that the state outlaws slaughtering horses for meat.


Anonymous said...

The depth of the horse problem is very under-reported. Cattle, sheep & goats are getting the vast majority of that $200 a ton hay because they all have base prices. Horsemeat is eaten all over Europe, not just in France, but like all meat, Europeans don't buy starved horses.

For many years, the base price of a horse was derived from it's hide as much as the rest of the horse.
There was a thriving business from American horse buyers that sold the horses to companies that butchered the horses at sea; the horse hides were sold to baseball manufacturers and unloaded in Haiti, where the hides were tanned and sent back to the U.S. The horseflesh was then sold in Europe. The hides made all the money, and the meat paid for the process.

The real suffering happens in all the very small hobby farms that were bought to keep a horse for the kids. A lot of these places are to small to pasture a horse, so the animals are completely dependent on hay purchased by the owners. These owners are now having trouble keeping themselves in good shape, but can't stand to part with old starving Dobbin, out there in the back acre, who taught all the kids how to ride on his patient back.

While a bullet would be merciful, there is also a big problem with dead horse disposal in many of the communities that have the worst problems. And most of the horse owners won't pay a vet to have a horse put down, so they just starve.

Another sad factor is, during good times, these owners have bred their mares. Often as not, there is also a starving yearling colt out there as well.

A horse needs a minimum of 80 lbs. of good hay a day to stay in healthy, slim and stong. More hay is needed, if the hay is moldy, weedy, full of cheat grass, or otherwise poor. That amounts to about 15 tons per year if the horse is fed hay daily. At $200 a ton, that's $3000 a year.

The problem is far from hitting bottom. The Humane Society was founded to take care of horse starvation 100 years ago, and the spectre is returning again like a ghost from the past.

alan said...

Anon, thanks, nice post.

Odd as it sounds, the slaughterhouses played an important role, and perhaps should be brought back.

I had no idea that feed was so expensive. Are your numbers current prices, or from a couple of years ago before price increases?

I wonder if we'll start to see prosecutions for animal cruelty. How could a guy, as he drives around rural areas, see starving horses to report them? By that I mean, something you'd note at a bit of distance, driving by, without going on the property.

Any links to more info?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Alan...
I got the hay prices from my brother. He sells his excess hay, if he has any, and we just talked about prices last week. They will be even higher by next April-May, which are always the most critical months.

The Idaho Horse Council, or the Idaho Horse Board may have some firm statistics.

I got the stuff about those 1/2 to 4 acre hobby farms from simple observation. Some starvation has always been there, but it's increased a lot. The starvation really started last winter, but even through this summer, I've seen plenty of horses in bad shape.

It is very easy to see starvation in a horse- they start looking like human refugees in the same condition. Most folks simply don't think about it, so they don't look for it. Animal cruelty is a crime, so calling the Sherrif's office or Humane Society will get attention. TV news always bites on a horse story, and that will work, too.

This has been a longstanding problem; people who own those small acreages don't realize how much feed they'll need for a family horse before they buy one. A 4-acre pasture, well irrigated and kept, will feed one horse through the summer if carefully managed. A horse will eat about an acre a month during the growing season. Even so, hay is often needed year-round.

Part of the loss of horse packers is due to the Humane Society and/or PETA- they were able to ban the use of horsemeat for pet food. Mustangs were hunted for this purpose, but most of the horses came from ranches and hobby farms..

A horse can live for 30 years or more. Past the age of 15 or so, they become too old to be really useful, but at that age, they are often the best for beginners and kids, and can stay quite fit until the age of 20+.

I am not condemning all the folks who keep a few horses by any means. Most folks who keep them take very good care of them.

Another big part of the Idaho problem are all the huge dairy farms around Twin Falls. They buy all the hay they can get, and the number of dairy farms continues to rise down there. There is no hay surplus whatsoever due to the long drought.

The closest packing house that accepts horses, as far as I know, is in Alberta. This means that horses going there will have to be vet-checked and certified, which adds to the cost of transporting & selling the horse up there. I don't know much about the Canadian slaughterhouses, but I'll bet that they only want horses fit for human consumption. They are still exporting horses to Europe, Central and S. America.

There is no price floor on horsemeat as there is on other livestock, so it has always been a buyer's market. Cattle, sheep, and even goats are all higher on the hay chain than horses.

I was born and raised on a ranch, and my family once had a standing herd of about 200 horses, back in the 60's.

Ironically, I've eaten horse while in Europe. It's good. A healthy horse is as wholesome as a healthy cow- probably healthier for humans, as they don't get growth hormones and all the other junk they use with cattle.

alan said...

Thanks again, anon. I live in Kuna, and I'm going to keep an eagle eye out for underfed horses.

I'm not a horse guy, but I don't like animals to suffer. And I have a digital camera. With a zoom lens.