Posts Tagged ‘Slaughter’

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.

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Reality Check: Horses and Slaughter

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

It's Time to Face Reality

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