I’ve had horses for a long time. I love horses. It’s fair to say that I know a good deal about them, and have successfully bred and raised them, and also taken mercy on horses by relieving them of undue suffering. It’s also fair to say that one of the things I have learned in all my time with horses is that some people, most of whom have never owned a horse, have no idea what is entailed in the ownership, maintenance, and medical demands of a horse. Too many people have a “happy-talk” view of horses that does not match reality. Too many people believe that they shouldn’t ever be slaughtered, because it’s a fate too cruel to contemplate as some of the same people wolf down hamburgers or buckets of chicken.
The Congress has finally lifted an effective ban enacted five years ago on the slaughter of horses for human consumption here in the US, and the lifting of this folly in law will finally permit some hope for an industry that has suffered grave harm because some in government have been listening to the well-meaning, but uninformed folks who believe that horses should be exempt from the same fate as other livestock. Some of you are going to hate me after this post, but so be it. If you’ve not yet tackled this truth, today is your day. The truth is that with the glut of unwanted horses now flooding the market, all horses are suffering as a result. More are being abandoned, and more are slowly starving, because owners have been deprived of one method of disposal because some people don’t like it.
People talk about the cruelty of horse slaughter, as if it is any more cruel for a horse than for a cow, pig, or sheep. Newsflash: It’s no different. If you like bacon dressing your plate of eggs and hash, you’d better grip reality. Slaughter is what it is. I make no excuses for it, because it is necessary. If you’re one of those “vegans” who believe that eating all meat is bad, congratulations on your philosophical consistency, but at the same time, I offer you my condolences since growing children need meat proteins and if you’re not providing them to children in your care because of your beliefs on slaughter or meat, I think you’re a blooming idiot. The simple fact of the matter is that humans need meat in their diets. You can murmur and whine all you like, and you can call me names until you’re blue in the face, but our nature is not that of a herbivore. Nature didn’t give you incisors to slice through veggies. Deal with it.
Now as to the particulars of horses, let’s get something straight: Long before mankind saddled up on horseback, early man was rubbing his belly after a fine meal of horse meat. Horse is leaner than beef from cattle, and is every bit as nutritious. In World War I, when most of the world still fought wars on foot and on horseback, the United States sent more than a million head of horse to Europe to fight the war. None came home. Most of the surviving horses went to feed a starving continent in the aftermath of that war, and millions of Frenchmen and Germans, among others, owed their survival to a diet of horse stew. This was less than one-hundred years ago, meaning there are many still around who remember those days. Check in with them before condemning horse slaughter. It wasn’t only the meat that the Europeans used. As in any such calamitous circumstance, almost every part of the horse was used, including the coats, from which winter clothing was made. My wife still has a coat passed down to her through generations that finds its origin in that period. She doesn’t wear it, but it remains as a reminder of her heritage and how her family like so many in Europe were forced to survive.
Having covered the purely practical questions, let’s move on to the economic ones. Horse slaughter fulfills a vital function in the horse industry: It puts to good use animals that would otherwise be dumped in landfills or buried in massive pits. As it stands, we have a surplus of horses since the prohibition on federal funding of inspections of horses slaughtered for human consumption enacted through Congress five years ago. It has long been true that excess horses found their way to slaughter because only the most useful animals are kept. There are a few organizations that run horse rescue operations, but the truth is that those subsist almost entirely on charity, and in these hard economic times, they’ve been suffering, and a few have even gotten themselves into trouble, unable to feed or care for the growing number of discarded horses. Too many people have come to the irrational view of horses as pets, but this is a nonsensical view that cannot be sustained in the real world. Horses are livestock, and when treated as such in the market, the market handles the problems associated.
In days gone by, but thankfully perhaps now returning, horses past their usefulness went to “the glue factory,” as the euphemism promised. Only the rare horse, perhaps famous for racing or other equestrian endeavor managed to avoid this fate. The reason is simple enough to understand, and I know a thing or two about it: Horses are expensive to maintain, feed, and pasture or stable, and because they are no longer a necessity of our culture, the demand for them comes only from entertainment, sports, and yes, that practice of slaughter for food and other byproducts. As a matter of economics, the lack of slaughter has devalued all horses, because we now have a glut of unwanted horses too infirm from old injuries and old age to ever be of use other than as pasture ornaments. Let’s conduct an economic exercise: When slaughter was legal, we saw prices of nearly $0.60/lb. for horse on the hoof. This meant that a 1000lb. horse could be expected to bring six-hundred dollars. While that’s not a great deal of money, if the horse is fit for no other use, that’s the most the horse is worth. You can attempt to attach non-market emotional value to the horse, but that’s a matter of subjective considerations that has nothing to do with the market. Now, let’s take that same horse, and rather than slaughter, let’s euthanize the horse. Depending on the veterinarian, that may cost anywhere from $100 to $300, or more. Then you must dispose of the carcass. Yes, horses go somewhere, and most of them end up in a landfill. You can expect to pay between $200 and $300 for that. Let’s stay on the cheap side of this argument. Let’s assume you euthanize and dispose of the horse for a grand total of $300. As compared to taking that same horse to slaughter, you’re out $900. Math is hard. Nature is harder.
Let’s imagine that this animal is going to be kept as a pasture ornament. Let’s just say we’re going to keep the animal around indefinitely. You will spend an average of $1500 annually on veterinary care, and another $600 on farriers’ services, and you will feed the horse hay and some sort of bulk protein in the form of grain or pelletized feed products. The average one-thousand pound horse is going to consume $40 in hay and $20 in feed for a week. Do the math. You’re going to spend a load of money on a horse that isn’t doing anything else. It’s not at all difficult to suggest that with the average horse, even bargain-shopping on all the necessities, you’re going to spend $5000 per year to maintain the existence of the animal. At present, the average healthy young horse does not fetch $1000 at a sale in my home state. I want you to think about that reality: On average, in my state, if you can give a horse away, you’re doing well. Texas has some particular problems in its horse market brought about by politicians, but nationwide, the industry has suffered from this horse slaughter ban. Too many unfit, infirm animals are taking up too many resources, because for the last five years, we have been prevented from slaughtering the excess. While horses haven’t been going to slaughter, many horse farms have been killed off, because they can no longer sell their product at a profit for all the useless animals stacking up all over the country.
Now, before some PETA-minded “animals have rights too” whack-job starts in on me, no, I have never personally shipped a horse to slaughter. Every horse we’ve ever had that became seriously injured or sick was euthanized. Yes, I paid the freight to haul off their carcasses, but understand that in all but one hopeless case, we tried to save the horse first, meaning its meat was unfit for human consumption anyway due to the medications that were used in the animal’s treatment. With perhaps all but one of them, if I had known that the treatments would have been futile, and that they were going to die irrespective of our veterinary efforts, I would rather they had gone to slaughter than spend untold thousands on treatments that were ultimately followed by euthanasia and disposal. At least that way, some good would have come of them.
I realize that seems harsh to some people. Part of this sense is born of the fact that some people mistake livestock for pets. Pets live indoors. Pets are generally in some manner housebroken. If you’ve managed that with an equine, you’ve one serious horse-whisperer. The simple fact is that the bias in favor of horses on the part of some resides purely in their minds, much like any other bias. I mentioned “all but one of them,” and that was such a case, where my bias in favor of the horse would have caused me to expend a good deal more if the veterinarians had not convinced me it would be fruitless. It had nothing to do with the horse’s market worth, but his worth to me personally, but the fact that one particular horse was especially valuable to me doesn’t change the fact that horses are livestock.
I also think with the shape of things in our world, the time is quickly coming when we will have no room for purely sentimental legislation that effectively leads to asinine bans on the slaughter of horses for human consumption. The simple truth that none of the do-gooders ever address is that horses will die. All horses will die. How they will die comes down in many cases to human choice, but the only end accomplished by slaughter bans is to deny to horse owners a residual, token amount for the tens of thousands of dollars they will have spent over the life of a horse, and to make those owners slaves to animals long beyond their use. You can call me a mean and ruthless bastard if you like, but the truth of the matter is something else entirely.
I love horses, but I know that the only way we will preserve them is that if they are maintained as private property. A thing is defined as property in part by the right of its owner to use and dispose of it. If the argument of the anti-slaughter advocates is that I should be denied the use and disposal of my property, they are merely communists acting under another claim of “the public interest,” or “the public good.” If I knew who inserted that provision into the bill that eliminated the ban, I would give them a big sloppy kiss and $100 toward their re-election. So would most others in the horse husbandry business. It’s not that any of us in the horse industry seek to slaughter horses, but we know so long as they exist, this will be necessary, if unpleasant.
Follow-up: A Note to Horsemen