Archive for the ‘Horses’ Category

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Thankful in Texas

Each year, my wife and I celebrate Thanksgiving, and depending on where our daughter is, and where her soldier may be, the two generally join us for a modest but plentiful meal of turkey and other typical dishes.  This year will be like most, as my daughter joined us while her husband serves a tour in Afghanistan.  We talk about him, wishing he’d been here, and gave thanks for all we have, but this year is a little different than most.  Life on a farm can be hard, but when you deal with livestock, there are certain hazards you accept, and while you seek to mitigate and minimize them through thinking about safety first, on some occasions, due to bad luck, absent-mindedness, or simple miscalculation, when things go wrong, they can go wrong all at once, leaving a disaster in the wake.  This week has been such a time on our farm, when the mundane and simple task of feeding our horses turned into a nightmare.  As it has happened, we wound up quite lucky, but it could have gone differently for this will go down in the family book of lore as the Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t.

Working the hours we do, plus tending to all the chores of the farm, one of the seasonal adjustments that happens each year is that due to shortening days as we near the Winter solstice, the evening feeding time moves up a bit to permit all chores to be completed before the sun goes down.  No group of people is more tuned to the changing of the seasons than those who labor in agricultural endeavors, because that floating orb of superheated plasma that lights our days and warms our Earth is really the dominant force governing life on this planet.  When I depart work this time of year, the sun is already low on the horizon, and the daylight is nearly gone.  For this reason, my better half sets out to feed the herd and to dispense with the evening chores because by the time I arrive home, the last embers of burning daylight are slipping from the sky.

So it was this week that as my wife came to the last pasture that as she began to dispense the feed, the band of mares was typically unruly as any zoo at feeding time.  Determined to be done with the days chores, as she began to distribute the feed, there arose a bit of euphoria among the mares: “Hurrah, it’s supper time.”  One of the mares, in uncharacteristic exuberance, launched into a flurry of bucking and kicking, as a young colt might do under the watchful gaze of his dam.  Unfortunately for my wife, she didn’t see it coming, looking up just in time to catch a flying hoof about her brow.  An inch closer to the mare, and she’d have never placed the phone-call, but as the blood streamed from the crater, she called me at work. “I just got kicked in the head by one of the mares.”

I rushed home and kept her on the line, knowing head trauma victims are best kept calm and conscious.  She refused to let me call an ambulance, insisting I would be faster anyway, without the cost.  There is some reason to think she’s right, but as I told her, the EMTs in the ambulance can do things I can’t.  She insisted.  I continued to roll, with all apologies to any relevant authorities.  I pulled into the yard, and she was standing there waiting for me, so I pulled alongside her and threw open the door.  As she climbed in, I looked at the wound, and I had to look away because I didn’t wish to upset her more than necessary, as I sped down the road to the hospital ER just ten minutes away, as the Mustang flies.  Arriving at the Emergency Room as she walked through the door, the nurses at the front desk couldn’t conceal their shock and they ushered her immediately back.

After a CT scan mercifully revealed no brain hemorrhaging, but also no fractures, the team in the trauma center began the process of flushing the wound and then stitching her brow and forehead back together.  Multiple layers of stitches later, her face swelling as her left eye became a slit, our daughter present, we talked about happier times while we all contemplated how close this ugly accident had come to outright disaster.  Life is so fragile, and our time here so short, in the hustle and bustle of the everyday grind, it is well that Americans have a day set aside to count their many blessings and remember to say thanks to the Almighty.

This evening, as we clean up the kitchen, and put up the left-overs, we’ll be thankful to remember this as the Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t.  I will keep it as a reminder of how temporary life is, and how suddenly it can be lost, and how dear to me are all whom I love.  For all of the ugliness of the last few days, I am still surrounded by the people I love, so that through all the travails and tribulations our nation may yet endure, we can still count ourselves among the very lucky.  I hope on this day of turkey, and shared celebration, each of you find yourselves in similar company, knowing full and well the blessings of the day. Say “Thanks.” Say them often. Hug those around you a little tighter, since we never know the day or the manner in which it can all end.

Note: I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!  May you have so many reasons to be thankful as I.

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All The President’s Help

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Is this man drunk?

Listening to President Jack-Ass, one would think that nobody could create the first thing without the government standing there to help them.  I take offense at the notion, and more, I am willing to demonstrate how the biggest obstacles I have faced have been born of government regulation, idiotic laws, and crony-capitalism powered by criminal thugs like Barack Obama. As many of you will know by now, I am a horseman, in addition to the profession in which I work, and I have a small thoroughbred farm together with my wife. When we began this endeavor, there was no barn, no tractor, no fences, or horses or even running water. There was no electricity, there was no dwelling, and there wasn’t much at all but an empty field alongside a rural highway with a dozen or so trees scattered far and wide upon it. From the outset, there were problems, and almost all of them were induced by government, and our trials and tribulations have been exacerbated by that same entity, though not exclusively the federal ones. With “help” like his, I would think we’d have been better off on our own.

First, I’d like you to consider the words of the jack-ass-in-chief:

 


Apart from the fact that this maniacal leftist clearly views us all as his property, and all as the beneficiaries of his master plans, he also contends that nobody gets success on their own. In his America, that may be increasingly true, as to be successful, it often seems you must grease the palms of an inordinate number of politicians, both in Washington, and in your home state. Let me take you through a brief litany of how all of these dear helpers, these masterminds of distribution, have helped to hold my small farm down.

In 2004, the entirety of Texas began to fall under a drought that lasted and lasted. For those of us dependent upon feeds and hay, the costs were striking. We watched an ordinary round-bale of coastal Bermuda hay go from a price between $30-40 dollars up to over $110. Just when one thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, the government stepped in to “help.” If you happened to be a cattleman, it was fine help. The government was handing out drought relief, but the key qualification is that your crop had to be for food. Horses did not qualify, since their primary use is not down at the burger stand. Some of you might wonder if I’m not complaining merely because I didn’t get the cash, but I tell you that it was a horrible situation, and I didn’t want the cash, but what I really didn’t want was government deciding who would win and who would lose. You see, all of the cattlemen were now flush with cash, and they could go into the market and buy whatever scarce hay was in existence, and import it from other states too. We soon saw the price of a round-bale escalate from around $100 up to a high of over $170. Now, some of you might be asking: “Well, what if the government hadn’t given them the cash, how would they have fed their cows?” The answer is: They wouldn’t. They would have loaded them up and trucked them to the feedlots and sold them while they could get what they could for them. In short, the market would have responded appropriately. The price of beef would have dropped briefly before spiking upwards, and that would have brought higher prices for future beef that would have eased the pressure on the hay side of the market for everybody.

Of course, in 2005, as all of this was happening, I thought this was a temporary condition, and that the drought would end, and people would come to their senses, and I wouldn’t have need of drastic measures like selling my horses for meat. You see, in a market in which fuel prices were also spiking, and the disposable income of many people was suddenly thin, guess what wasn’t such a big seller any longer? That’s right: Horses. Now you would think that with the end of the drought, the troubles might begin to ease, but no, that wasn’t to be. Government had another nasty surprise: They effectively banned the funding of inspections of horses taken for slaughter. As you might well guess, I hadn’t intended to slaughter mine, but that’s hardly the point. Horse meat is a fine source of protein, much leaner than beef from cattle, and has fed people the world over for eons. In point of fact, long before man ever mounted a horse, he ate them. Some relatively small number of horses always went to slaughter, and much of the meat was exported, or fed large cats at the zoo. These animals shared one general characteristic: They were unfit for other uses, by and large.

What resulted when government decided to “help” again was a glut of unwanted horses, competing for and taking up resources that drove up the cost of maintaining every horse, market-wide. Worst of all, it had exactly the opposite effect of what had been advertised: Many horses were being abandoned, under-nourished, and dumped wherever and whenever their hard-pressed owners could dispense with them. Perhaps all the more ironic, a huge number began to be trucked over the Southern border into Mexican slaughter plants, where they don’t give a damn about humane conditions, never mind meat inspections. In many cases, the horses that did go to slaughter met a more gruesome fate than had they merely been slaughtered here. Meanwhile, the prices of horses was plummeting across the industry, as consumers were under all sorts of new pressures, and as the value of their homes and their money fell, buying a horse hit near rock-bottom on the priority list for many who had enjoyed them for decades. It got so bad, that late last year, Congress actually repealed the ban, although I don’t know if any domestic horse slaughter operations are back in business. The damage has been done.

Just these two federal actions might be enough to convince you of the obstacles government has put in the way of my family’s farm, but there is still a good deal to consider even at the state level, particularly here in Texas. You see, our state hasn’t participated in arrangements like its neighboring states. If you go to Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or New Mexico, you will find state-bred programs that actually encourage the breeding of horses in those states. Texas has such a program too, though on principle, I do not participate because I see it as a socialistic subsidy. The difference is that in the adjoining states, they have permitted the expansion of gambling to include “video lottery terminals”(that look suspiciously like slot machines) but the deal struck in these states to allow for the enhanced gambling requires that they be placed at racetracks, and that a portion of the revenues be plowed back into purses for qualifying races limited to state-bred horses. Texas has opted to forgo this form of revenue, with pious-sounding legislators pretending they have been swayed by a moral concern over gambling. In truth, like anything in politics, what you must do is follow the money. Various estimates show that as much as $6 Billion leaves Texas for gambling venues in these adjoining states. There are bus-trips you can get on that will take you over to Louisiana from Houston, where you can sample those “video lottery terminals.” Even if the estimate were double the actual amount, it’s still a huge amount of cash that flows out of Texas into our neighboring states.

How much money do you suppose is spent lobbying legislators in this state to continue to uphold their firm “moral” stance against expanded gambling in Texas? That’s right, for all their posturing, many of the legislators in question are merely taking cash in order to vote against something that would provide large revenues to the state that is now merely bleeding out across our borders. Every other year, in our biennial legislative session, somebody brings a bill up, and in short order, it is killed. It’s brought up because it’s like ringing an alarm, to which all the lobbyists respond, and their answer is always in cash. Suddenly, all these legislators concerned about the evils of gambling are able to jump up and make strong statements against expanded gambling, while no small number of them have their palms greased.

Now you might say that because I don’t participate in the State-bred program anyway, it shouldn’t be of concern to me, but it is, and the reason is clear. What has happened is that while the purses in adjoining states have grown in proportion to their VLT revenues, they have stagnated or even shrunk in Texas. At this competitive disadvantage, how do you suppose Texas-bred horses now sell? Even if you were inclined to participate, the ROI isn’t there. Austin has a proposed track license, with the Austin Jockey Club. That license may never be exercised because the industry is suffering so badly in Texas under this scheme. Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie filed for bankruptcy protection. Other tracks are operating on the edge of solvency. The legislators don’t care because they’re getting positive press for their “moral stand” against gambling, while the competing-state lobbyists pile on the dough. That, my friends, is crony capitalism disguised as the moral majority.

Locally, it’s getting harder and harder for a farm to do business. In addition to the mountains of regulations rolling downhill from the EPA, local water control boards are making life difficult even for long-established farms. Oh well, more palms to be greased, I suppose. Of course, then you have the cities that now annex as much as the law allows every chance they get, and if they keep on at this pace, you will soon be able to remain with the boundaries of some municipality or other all the way from Oklahoma to Laredo.

Barack Obama goes to great pains to say that all of us are the beneficiary of some form of government help. That’s his implication, hidden behind a more acceptable-sounding notion that none of us get anywhere on our own, implying everything from the parents who brought us into this world to the teacher who may or may not have taught us the first thing in school. What my wife and I have experienced is something quite remarkably different, and it is that at every turn, it has been some governmental nonsense impeding us, obstructing us, or otherwise prohibiting us from making a go of it. You would think from listening to him that a brigade of his Obama-bots had accompanied us across the blazing hot pasture in July, driving t-posts into the scorched soil until the point of heat exhaustion, but I don’t remember any help. The wife and I, and our daughter a little bit, doing what Americans had always done: Building something where there had been nothing.

We never asked for any of this infernal “help,” and given its nature, we’d be just as happy if government stopped lending its “helping hands” and simply got the hell out of our way. We know how to choose good breeding stock, and we know all the important aspects of good animal husbandry, and I know my way around farm equipment and all the ordinary construction techniques we employ. I’m fairly certain that wasn’t Michelle Obama I lifted onto the skin of the barn’s roof to screw panels down as they were slid into place. I know for certain it wasn’t Barack who was running that welder. That was me. When we stretched thousands of feet of field fencing tight across all those newly planted posts, neither Secretary Clinton nor Sebelius were anywhere in sight, and neither was Harry Reid nor Nancy Pelosi, and not even a soul who had ever seen their offices.

Of course, when it came time to put up the mailbox, there was the guy from the Highway department to tell us how many feet it must be from the road’s edge, and what sort of super-duper break-away mount it must use, lest some weaving drunkard hit something much too firm alongside the road and do himself unnecessary harm. When we wanted to place our driveway, we were told what sort of culvert we must build, if we could build one at all, and so expensive was it that we simply opted to scatter a smattering of gravel across the ditch, and simply put some new gravel down each season. No culvert? No problem. There was the problem of bringing electricity to our homestead, and all of the government rules the electric company must follow, and how this all determined the siting of our home, rather than logic, and what we damn-well pleased. Yes, I am familiar with all the little helpers we’ve had along the way, and to be quite blunt about it, I hope they’ll all line up to help Barack Obama too. The problem is that it won’t bother him at all, because he doesn’t build anything, and he’s never accomplished anything on his own.

A Note to Horsemen

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Better Off Without Us?

I realize there is a bit of anger among some who don’t understand the question of slaughter, or who have converted it into an emotional issue.  I wish to thank the horsemen who have sent me such kind words, knowing the difficulties, but also the realities of the issue.  There were also hateful, scornful letters that called me all sorts of ugly things, but one of the common threads among those sorts of emails was the fact that even fewer of them were owners of horses.  They were mostly written by so-called “animal lovers.”   Like most horsemen, I too am an animal lover, but also like most horsemen, I know the difference between loving animals and hating humanity, and I know that the latter is a poor substitute for the former, and yet this is the character of those who wrote me the most scathing but likewise ignorant emails.  One lady actually suggested to me that I should be hung on a hook and bled out onto the slaughterhouse floor.  Her main thrust was that horses shouldn’t be property, and that somehow, they would be better off without us.

Whatever else you might say about that lady, she may claim to love animals, but I think it’s simply a disguise for her hatred of humans.  One of the other things at which she seemed to take great offense was my characterization of horses as property.  Begging the lady’s pardon, but that’s what they are and must be if they are to continue in existence on this planet.  If not for human use and intervention, the only equids that would remain on the planet would be the zebra.  Even that one would fade rapidly if not for human protection.  Horses came into being on the North American continent, but they went extinct here long before mankind populated the Americas.  All horses in the Americas are descended from the horses imported here by settlers.   I hear and read discussions of America’s “wild horses,” but we have no such horses.  The American Mustang is really just feral stock descended from the horses brought to this continent by the Spanish conquistadors. Let us set the myth of the wild American horse aside in favor of the truth, while we’re at it, and recognize they are little different from the feral cats that frequent alleys in large cities, that after generations, lose their domesticated leaning toward humans.

Horses are animals that requires conditions very favorable to its continued existence, because while they can survive temporarily by adapting somewhat to changing conditions, their physiology demands certain requirements be met.  Their digestive tract is far too fragile for significant changes in diet, and there is a very narrow range of foodstuffs they can eat.  They require a great deal of water to keep the plumbing working, and there’s little doubt but that they are fragile in every way.  Their hooves are prone to terrible infections in protracted wet conditions, and getting into some bad feed or forage can cause them to founder, a condition known as laminitis that is frequently lethal, by which the inflamed laminae (the tissue that binds the horn of the hoof to the coffin bone – think of this bone like the tip bone in your finger, and the horn like your nail) begins to pull apart, allowing the hoof wall to pull away, and the coffin bone to rotate down through the bottom of the hoof from the tension of the suspensory tendons that place constant tension that acts a bit like a shock absorber as the horse moves.  All of that, just from eating bad grain or grass, or sometime just too much of too rich a grain or grass.  It is the equivalent of eating a really rich cake, or tainted, moldy bread, and having the flesh on the heels of your feet fall off as a result, but remember, you’ll have to stand basically 24 hours per day.  In fact, anything that causes a protracted inflammation, or fever in the horse can cause the same thing.  Don’t kid yourselves: Horses are much more fragile than most people who spend little time around them would understand.  Every horseman knows this.

They are not really suited to most places in the world any longer.  To survive seasonal variations in climate, they require a huge range, because their only defense against the cold, apart from a somewhat thicker winter coat, is to migrate to warmer regions.  We humans, with our barns, and stables and horse blankets are the best defenders horses have.  There are many more horses due to human activity and breeding of horses than nature would permit to survive alongside us.  Horses also eat grasses down to the ground, effectively killing it, and often uprooting it if the ground is loose or moist.  They are much harder on grasslands than cattle.  Their manure is good fertilizer if you’re growing mushrooms, but it must be composted a long time before it’s good to use for much of anything else.

In short, everything about a horse leverages toward extinction, and this is why actual wild equids, of which there are few remaining on earth, are smallish compared even with the American mustangs, many of which are small enough to be considered ponies.  (Contrary to what some non-horsemen may have been led to believe, ponies are not young horses.  They’re small horses, and usually of particular breeds.  Young horses are known as foals (babies of either sex,) colts(males,) fillies(females,) weanlings(no longer nursing for sustenance, and in human care often removed from the mare’s presence,) and yearlings(those having passed their first winter, in most cases, but not yet their second.)

The point in explaining all of this is to clear something up for those who know little or nothing of substance about horses, their care, their maintenance, their breeding, or much of anything about them, never mind their slaughter.  You see, the lady who thought I should be hung on a hook took offense to the notion of horses as property.  I’ve got some news for that lady, and for anybody else of a similar mind:  Horses do much better as property than they were doing in the wild.  Had mankind not adopted horses for uses other than as food, they would likely be all but extinct by now, except perhaps for the zebra, but even there, the issue is in question.

Here’s another factoid: Today in the United States, there are roughly seven million horses.  The most there ever had been was in 1915, when the total number of horses in the US was around twenty-one million.  Remember, however, that in 1915, horses were like cars and trucks today. By the 1950s, with the proliferation of the automobile, horses had dwindled in the United States to an estimated three million.   Most horses now in the United States are used for racing, breeding, and some form of recreation or competition.  Roughly one-sixth are farm, ranch, and police horses, that work in some sort of actual labor, apart from racing.

Even these activities are seeing some retraction, as horse-racing is losing favor with the public due to ethical concerns, particularly arising from medications administered to race animals.  With the value of the dollar in steep decline, and the costs of maintaining horses on the rise, steeply in many cases due to droughts, there’s every indication the the horse population may again begin to dwindle.   On the other hand, as  I have pointed out, with the world’s economy on the brink of collapse, with the Euro in trouble, and the dollar so tightly linked to it, we could suddenly arrive in a situation where horses come to be of inestimable value once again.  At the moment, however, we’re a long way from that kind of resurgence.

The real issue comes down to a question of property rights, and it is here that we must draw a line no matter the claims of the so-called “animal-lovers” who use this issue to the property rights of humans.  Cattle are property too.  If we can restrict the rights of horseman to dispose of their livestock by slaughter, why not cattle or sheep or hogs?  All I’m asking for, and I think all most horsemen in favor of slaughter are asking is for a bit of intellectual consistency on the part of those opposed to horse slaughter.  If the property rights of horse owners aren’t permitted to prevail, what will happen when somebody decides a calf is too cute to slaughter for veal?

We horsemen must stand up for our property rights, and one of the characteristics of property is the right of disposal.   Property can be disposed of by sales, or by donation, or by destruction.  What the “animal lovers” suggest is that there is some way in which to make the destruction less destructive.  Most horseman who have been around a while have witnessed euthanasia as practiced on horses, and to pretend it’s anything but horrific is a lie.  To pretend that the method of slaughter that had been routinely practiced in the US was substantially more “cruel” is also a lie.

I received one letter from a lady who waxed poetic on the “culture of the cowboy.”  Her email address was from a provider in New Jersey.  I don’t mean to denigrate New Jersey, but it’s not exactly known for its cowboys or horses, so I was a bit surprised.  What was more surprising to me was her notion that cowboys of the old west never ate horse meat.  In many cases, horses that died under saddle today became tomorrow’s supper.   The real ethos of the horseman is that nothing go to waste.   Horseman don’t make idle use of their animals, and they don’t breed animals they don’t need or don’t have some expectation of being able to sell in the market.

The most laughable thing I’ve read is the accusation that horsemen wish to be able to raise horses specifically for slaughter.  I’ve never, in all my years as a horseman, encountered even one of my fellow horsemen for whom this was true.  I’ve been on large breeding farms, and small family farms, and all sizes in between, but never have I seen even one horseman that goes through the difficulty of breeding just to send the resultant horse to the slaughter pens.  Seriously, for you horsemen, do you know any who do such, or ever have?

Instead, what I have seen is mostly a large number of people engaged in an honest trade, and people who wish their get to be athletic, healthy, and superior in every measure.  I have never known a single person to look at that new foal and think: “Mmmm, mmmm, what a good price he’ll fetch at the slaughter house.”  As I’ve detailed before, it’s a preposterous argument, even on a simple economic basis.

For you non-horsemen, let me tell you what it’s really like:  We spend hours, days, or weeks considering the stock we buy, not only for its immediate fitness and use, but also future potential in the breeding shed.  When we evaluate a mare, we look for those features we know are traits likely to be passed on to her offspring, good or bad, and we go looking for stallions who will compliment the best features of our mares.  We spend a pretty penny breeding, in stallion fees, in shipping mare(thoroughbreds may not use shipped semen) and in caring for the mares throughout their eleven month pregnancies.  When the time is near, we may go on foal watch, and some rely upon camera systems in barns, and some(like us) do it the old-fashioned way.  The number of nights I’ve spent waiting for a mare’s seeming imminent delivery probably adds up to nearly a year.  One year, this paid off as two mares consecutively  delivered their foals in what’s known as a “red bag” delivery, in which the placenta detaches prematurely, and the foal is slowly being asphyxiated as the mare delivers the placenta ahead of or in tandem with the foal.  This is a situation in which human intervention is critical.  One of the two was turning rapidly blue by the time we could grasp the hooves and begin to pull the foal free.  We were in resuscitation mode before that foal was fully free of the mare.  Both survived.  Do you think any horseman on earth goes through all of this simply to pack them off to slaughter as their primary, or secondary, or even tertiary objective?  No.  The costs of raising that foal make any such intentions self-destructive, at the very least in an economic sense.

Slaughter is what is done with unfit horses for which there is no other use, but it is not the first, second, or even third recourse of any horsemen I know.   The attempt by some so-called “animal lovers” to pretend otherwise is absurd, but what is perhaps downright insane is to suggest that by absconding with the property rights of horse owners, they can somehow prevent actual suffering, or “save horses.”   Horses live longer in human ownership than they do in the wild, even with slaughter permitted, so to pretend they’re out to help horses is to carry out a ruse:  You can’t be in favor of horses and stand against the rights of those who own them.

We horsemen shouldn’t be afraid to say this.