☛ The dark world of horse slaughter 1-7-17
THE DARK WORLD OF HORSE SLAUGHTER
By Robin Fowler
Jan. 7, 2017
A shipment of 40 Appaloosas of all ages kept Grenwood Stables and Equine rescue in Kansas busy in November; however, all found new homes in a week’s time. Many were registered horses.
It was the truckload of foundation-bred Appaloosa horses that sent Kansas horse slaughter rescuers into a panic during one week in November. Some 40 Appaloosas, many of them registered, had been trucked to a Peabody, Kansas, kill pen near Greenwood Stables and Equine Rescue.
There, and at other kill lots across the country, horses may have only a few days – in some cases only a few hours — to appeal to potential rescuers and be saved. Those who can’t find homes will be packed into another truck and sent to Mexico to their deaths, their carcasses butchered for dinner tables overseas.
Amazingly, all of these Appaloosas were adopted. That week, for the first time, the slaughter trucks from Peabody were canceled.
How did this band of Appaloosas get into this predicament? It was through no fault of their own. Their breeder had moved to a retirement home and his horses were sent to a kill buyer. Amy Bayes, founder of the Greenwood nonprofit, says that kind of thing happens more often than one would think.
Horse slaughter is illegal in the United States but horses can be transported from the United States. to slaughter in other countries, usually Canada or Mexico. Horses must be able to bear weight on four limbs and walk unassisted. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they cannot be blind in both eyes, under six months of age or pregnant and likely to foal during the trip. But rules can be open to interpretation. For example, some mares are so emaciated by former owners that kill buyers can say, truthfully, that they didn’t know the horse was pregnant.
In late December 2014, the European Union banned the importation of horse meat and meat products from Mexico, in part because of inhumane treatment of slaughter-bound horses during the trip from kill pens in the United States to slaughterhouses in Mexico. Yet the demand for horsemeat continues, and prices per pound remain high.
This Wyoming weanling filly’s wobbly legs may have been the reason she ended up in a Kansas kill pen, but a veterinarian determined that a good diet and regular trims could do wonders for this well-traveled baby. she found a home in Texas with three young children.
Pure and simple, the mission of Greenwood Stables and Equine Rescue, and others like it, is to intercept horses bound for slaughter. Bayes endeavors to save 10 to 20 of the 60 to 120 horses in the Peabody kill pens every week with the help of a few volunteers and the 13,500 friends of her Facebook page.
The price of an average-sized slaughter-bound horse at Greenwood is $650, approximately what the kill buyer would receive for the horse at the slaughter facilities in Mexico. Average price paid at slaughter is 65 cents per pound, according to Bayes. Young, healthy horses can bring more, older injured or sick horses less.
The kill buyer comes out ahead on horses that Bayes sells because he doesn’t have to pay transport to Mexico. Some kill buyers elsewhere charge more: $850-$950 on Facebook pages operated by rescue groups around the country. Prices set by kill buyers usually are not negotiable.
“I have the worst job in the world,” Bayes recently wrote in a Facebook post. “I have to go to the kill pens and decide who lives and who dies.”
It is a mission that is heartrending on a daily basis but Bayes must choose the horses most likely to capture the attention of potential adopters willing to pay their “bail” and take them home. Less likely to find homes are unhandled youngsters and horses that are old, sick, injured or underweight. Stallions are less likely to find new homes than mares, and all horses have a better chance to be saved if broke to ride or registered with a breed association, according to Bayes. Most horses that wind up in kill pens come directly from auctions where bids are low.
Bayes claims that recipient mares are among those at risk. Young mares often initially escape slaughter because they are in demand as recipient mares destined to carry the foals of high-dollar show mares and stallions. It’s a job that prolongs their lives for a few years, but as they age and become reproductively challenged, many eventually are shipped to slaughter as early as age 12.
Greenwood helps its supporters buy horses from a local kill buyer and allows them to make donations toward the bail of slaughter-bound horses that they can’t adopt personally. If the donation campaign is successful, the horse is given to the rescue if space is available and is offered for adoption. But Greenwood does not give free horses to would-be adopters.
“We have found that if a person doesn’t have ‘skin in the game,’ they are more likely not to care for the horse,” Bayes says. “No one wants to see the horses return to a kill pen.”
“None deserves its fate,” Bayes says of horses that do not attract a new owner and are loaded into the Mexico-bound trucks for slaughter.
Some horses simply slip through the cracks. In mid-December, an 18-year-old Thoroughbred stallion that had been donated by its elderly owner to Texas A&M University – Commerce (TAMUC) was discovered at the small Red River Horse Sale north of Bonham, Texas. Luckily for Tricky Prospect, Texas rescuers had learned the stallion would be in the sale and outbid kill buyers to pay the meager purchase price of $385. As if the winning bid wasn’t a clue, TAMUC, that is known for its equestrian program, said through a spokesman that it had been unaware kill buyers might be among bidders.
Horses donated to church camps also can find themselves in dire straits. Many camps acquire horses every spring and then send them to kill pens in the fall so they don’t have to feed horses over the winter. The practice happens so often that entire rescue groups are devoted solely to saving camp horses – some of which are donated by owners who have no idea what is about to happen to their longtime equine companions.
Bayes, a fulltime professional librarian, and her daughter Saje operate Greenwood with the help of a few volunteers and equine professionals, including vets, farriers and haulers who provide services at a discount. She also has support from her community residents who donate hay and used equipment. Bayes has reservations about working alongside kill buyers but realizes she can save more horses if she does. Her disdain, though, mainly is targeted toward horse owners who sell to kill buyers.
But Bayes can’t afford to ruminate long on week-to-week successes and failures, because there’s always another truckload on the way. Little more than a week after she found new owners for the 40 Appaloosas, a truckload of trained kid-proof horses arrived from a church camp. There’s no word as to what the church tells its children when asked about the whereabouts of last summer’s missing favorites.
Robin Fowler is a freelance writer in Weatherford, TX, whose personal herd ranges from a BLM Mustang to an AQHA World Champion. She recently acquired two weanling fillies that did time in kill pens before they were saved.
The Need for Equine Rescue
Kill pens have no monopoly on rescue issues when it comes to horses but needs wax and wane over the years. An example is the plight of the Premarin mares.
At its peak more than a decade ago, some 400 farms in the United States and Canada utilized more than 50,000 horses in the manufacture of the Pfizer drug Premarin that is derived from the urine of pregnant mares and used in human hormone therapy. The mares were kept constantly pregnant and made to stand for six months at a time in small stalls where they could move only a few inches in any direction. They and their foals often were sent to slaughter once their usefulness to Pfizer ended.
Since then the manufacture of Premarin primarily has moved overseas to China and other countries where animal welfare laws are lax. When many of the Premarin ranches in North America lost their contracts, rescue groups geared up to find homes for the mares and their foals. Many of those rescuers found the demise of Premarin farms bittersweet when they were replaced by farms on another continent.
There still are about 3,500 Premarin mares on ranches in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, says Jennifer Kunz, director of operations at Duchess Sanctuary south of Eugene, Ore., founded in 2008. The 1,120-acre sanctuary, operated by The Fund for Animals affiliated with The Humane Society of the United States, is home to about 75 Premarin mares and 40 offspring of mares who arrived in foal, as well as mustangs and other horses rescued from slaughter. The sanctuary’s horses have arrived at their “forever home” and are not available for adoption, Kunz says.
But even though the number of Premarin mares has been greatly reduced in North America, there are always other issues to take their place. Among them:
* Nurse mare foals: Last Chance Corral is a rescue organization in Athens, OH, devoted to nurse mare foals whose dams were bred to provide nourishment to Thoroughbred race prospects. Of the foals actually born to nurse mares, fillies sometimes are raised to become future nurse mares, but abandoned colts may be left to die of malnourishment. Last Chance Corral rescues 150 to 200 foals a year.
* Abuse: Blaze’s Tribute Equine in Jones, Okla., is a nonprofit devoted to neglected, starved and abused horses, with a primary focus on animal cruelty cases. Rescue personnel often are called to help with cases handled by the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare staff. More than 1,300 horses have been rescued by Blaze’s Tribute since 2002 and most have been returned to health and rehomed.
Tips for Potential Buyers
Saje Bayes hugs a kill-penhorse with a ssevere leg injury that could not be repaired by veterinarians. Greenwood Stables and equine Rescue bought the mare and humanely euthanized her so she did not have to make the 30-hour trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse.
Disposing of unwanted horses is an old problem that needs new solutions, says Cie Sadeghy at Oklahoma’s Caring and Sharing rescue group.
“It’s done in an old-fashioned way. Somebody needs to figure out a new way,” she says.
For those considering horse rescue, these are among tips recommended by rescue groups and equine professionals.
- “Please do not spend your grocery or bill money to save these horses. Just use your Starbucks funds,” advises Sadeghy, whose rescue group was among the first to target kill pen horses. Although not a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity, Sadeghy’s Facebook group commands more than 22,500 supporters.
- Kill pens are riddled with diseases. Purchasers should expect horses that have been housed in kill pens to get sick and budget appropriately for veterinary care, says Amy Bayes with Greenwood Stables and Equine Rescue in Kansas, a charity whose 501(c)3 designation allows it to accept tax-deductible contributions. Rescue organizations often can offer advice as to reasonably priced quarantine facilities or provide quarantine themselves.
- Rescue groups also may be able to recommend vets, farriers and haulers who offer discounts to buyers of their horses. Because of the high incidence of illness in the kill pens, make sure the hauler disinfects his rig between trips and won’t be hauling dirty.
- If you adopt directly from a rescue organization rather than a kill buyer, your new horse is more likely already quarantined, vetted and current on shots and may even cost less. Some rescue contracts require adopters to return the horse rather than resell it if they can no longer keep it. That clause is designed to make sure the horse never again ends up in a kill pen regardless of its owner’s circumstances, according to Bayes. However, buying directly from a kill buyer carries with it no-strings ownership and the immediacy of saving a life otherwise destined to end in Mexico.
- Your rescue horse is unlikely to be accompanied by Coggins results or a health certificate and you will be responsible for arranging for necessary paperwork before you transport the horse.
- If the ability to make tax-deductable donations is important to you, make sure the rescue organization you are dealing with is an accredited 501(c)3 charity and has a track record.
- If you want to help but can’t afford to adopt a horse or don’t have a place to keep one, consider making donations toward the purchase price of specific horses that you would rescue if you could. Even small donations that lower the price may make it easier for someone else to adopt the horse and save its life.
- Be prepared for special needs. Some rescue horses are painfully thin, for example. For persons rescuing underweight horses, Sadeghy recommends senior feeds and warns that worming emaciated horses can lead to colic. Instead, wait for a 50- to 100-pound weight gain, she suggests.