Archive for Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Horses pulling up lame at auction

Closure of Texas slaughterhouses reverberates throughout equine market

A horse is paraded around the arena at Campbell's Sale Barn near Linwood, Kan., site of a weekly horse auction for the past 22 years. For a variety of reasons, the bottom has fallen out of the horse market.

A horse is paraded around the arena at Campbell's Sale Barn near Linwood, Kan., site of a weekly horse auction for the past 22 years. For a variety of reasons, the bottom has fallen out of the horse market.

April 29, 2008

— Still shaggy in its winter coat, the colt pirouetted, almost daintily, in the wood shavings on the arena floor.

Its rider and owner, Pat Saffer of Melvern, Kan., deftly guided the horse, turning first this way and then that, showing how it responded to gentle inputs with the reins.

Although Saffer would say later that the young chestnut was no great shakes as a horse, to the untrained eye horse and rider presented a momentary picture of the almost-mythical union that they say occurs between a man and a horse.

Then auctioneer Brandon McLagan rapped his gavel to start the proceedings, and any such romantic notions were shattered like fragile glass in a crescendo of staccato exhortations.

It was Monday night at the horse sale at Campbell's Sale Barn east of Linwood and the bidding was under way well, sort of.

Horses are not a hobby for Saffer. He and his wife, Jennifer, run about 50 head on a 400-acre ranch near Melvern.

Unfortunately for Saffer on this night, the young chestnut wasn't able to generate much interest among bidders. The horse brought only $130.

A couple of years ago, Saffer said, that horse probably would have brought $400.

And so it continued until about midnight, as 42 head of horses and mules went under the gavel. The highest price given for any of the animals was $1,200 for a quarter-horse gelding, said sale barn owner Everett Campbell.

That's a far cry from prices of just a couple of years ago, horse sellers say. For a variety of reasons, the bottom has fallen out of the horse market.

Several factors are mentioned the price of feed and hay, for example. Rising interest in ethanol production has driven up corn prices, and boarding and pasturage costs also have risen.

But the chief reason, many sellers say, is that animal-rights advocates forced the closure of slaughterhouses in Texas and Illinois that formerly kept prices higher.

In 2006, the last year they were in full operation, horse slaughter plants in De Kalb, Ill., and Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, killed 100,800 horses, processed the meat and sent it overseas for human consumption, much of it to France.

After years of campaigning by animal-rights advocates such as the Humane Society of the United States, the plants were closed in 2007. In Texas, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stood by its January 2007 ruling that upheld a state law banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption. The law had been enacted in 1949 but never enforced.

The Illinois plant was closed in March 2007 after a judge ruled it illegal for the plant to pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture for inspection costs. Congress eliminated funding for the inspections in 2005. Later in 2007, Illinois also passed a law prohibiting the sale of horsemeat for human consumption.

Previously, Saffer and others say, the slaughterhouses set a floor for horse prices. If the slaughterhouses would pay 50 cents a pound for horses, any plug horse that weighed 1,000 pounds was worth $500.

Without that floor, there is almost no bottom to the market.

Witness the $130 for Saffer's first horse. He didn't consider that price an adequate recompense for the hours he spent training the animal, but of even greater concern was his next commission, a 2-year-old paint quarterhorse gelding, similarly trained, that sold for $460.

"Back in the day," Saffer said, "that horse would have brought $1,500, $1,600."

The market is flooded with unregistered, worthless horses, Saffer said. Most of the animals at Monday night's sale should have gone to slaughter, he said.

Campbell, owner of the Linwood sale barn, site of a horse sale every Monday for the past 22 years "except for about three" canceled by bad weather agrees that, generally speaking, the quality of the stock offered for sale is down.

The closure of the slaughter market is partly responsible, but is only one factor, Campbell said.

"It's fuel prices and grain prices that's hurtin' everything not only the horse market, but everything in general."

Still, occasionally an animal comes through that generates attention.

"Some of the horses sell extra good here at our sale," Campbell said.

A horse at a recent sale sold for $4,000, he recalled.

Other nearby horse sales are in Salina, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla.

Hay and grain prices have risen considerably, as have costs for boarding.

At one area facility, boarding costs have risen from $425 to $475 a month in two years. Pasturage prices have risen as well. Costs at Oakridge Farm in Shawnee Mission Park have gone from $150 a month in 2005 to $165 a month today.

The debate over the closure of the slaughterhouses goes to the bone in horse country, and it is a debate that centers on the relationship between a horse and its owner.

"A horse is a livestock animal," says Bob Saffer.

"There's two schools of thought on that," counters Sally Dwyer at Seven Oaks Ranch, a boarding facility in Spring Hill. "These horse people, they don't like to see horses slaughtered. They don't like to see horses go over to France for horsemeat."

And, although horse prices are down, that's not bad news for everyone, Dwyer said.

"It's a good time to buy a horse right now," she said.

Saffer decried the closure of the slaughterhouses.

"Until they get that opened back up, we're going to have a bad market," he said.

What authorities should have done, Saffer and his wife say, is regulate the manner in which animals are euthanized, rather than banning slaughter outright.

"I believe in humane slaughter," he said.

There should be nothing wrong with eating horsemeat, he said. At least, Americans should be able to use horse products in dog food.

Despite American prejudices against it, horsemeat is often consumed in Europe, chiefly in Italy, France and Belgium, and in some parts of Latin America and among nomadic cultures in Asia. Horsemeat is often described as slightly sweet in flavor, but with slightly less protein that beef or pork.

The closure of the slaughterhouses is also part of the reason for increases in the number of abandoned horses.

"That's 99 percent of the reason there are so many abandoned horses," Jennifer Saffer says.


blueprints 10 years ago

Ok, let me see if I have this right ... the market is "flooded with worthless, unregistered horses"; a very difficult economy where people are losing their jobs and homes; hay, grain, bedding and fuel prices are at all time highs -- and what you blame is the 'lack of slaughter' for the low sale prices of horses at auctions? If slaughter of our US horses had actually ended, you might have a leg to stand on, but since it not only has not ended, but US horses will likely be slaughtered in record number this year (well over 100k) in Canada and Mexico, your "chief reason" is completely without basis.


aslans_home 10 years ago

It is interesting that Jennifer Saffer cites closure of the slaughterhouses as the reason for problems in the equine world. Her comment is, at best, both simplistic and uninformed. There are truckloads of subtlety that play into the current issues the equine industry is facing. Slaughterhouse closure is not one of them. Here's why: check the numbers of horses slaughtered. They are, in fact, the same and trending upward. The demand for horses being slaughtered in the U.S. has NOT ended. Only the final place of slaughter has. Killer buyers are still buying horses at auctions at the same number as last year because the same number of horses that were being killed in slaughter houses before the ban in the U.S. are being killed after the ban elsewhere. So, if that number has remained the same, then this "increase" in abandoned horses because there is no horse slaughtering is highly suspect and seems more to fit the private agenda of those people who actually hope to turn a profit off the flesh of horses. I suspect that they are upset to think that they cannot eek every last nickel out of even the babies that they breed indiscriminately even when the market and economic trends will not support breeding.

I pity any horse that is owned by these kind of people. Clearly, they care nothing about the horses they are breeding and raising, but you don't necessarily have to love horses to be appalled by descriptions of the extreme suffering that they are put through during their slaughter.


blueprints 10 years ago

US Horse Meat is Unsafe for Human Consumption

American horses are not regulated or medicated as food animals. About 70% of horse medications are either illegal to be consumed by humans or have not been tested for human consumption.

Are the illegal substances found in US slaughter horses? Yes. According to the USDA's Red Book, of the 66,183 horses slaughtered in 2004, 6.6% (4,268.08) horses were in violation for "bute" and 13.3% (8,802.34) were in violation of Penicillin. Of the 94,037 horses slaughtered in 2005, 11.1% (10,344.07) horses were in violation for "bute" and 25% (23,509.25) were in violation of Penicillin. Only small samples of 15 horses and 8 horses, respectively, were even tested. You can bet the other horses that were not tested got the USDA stamp of approval and were sent overseas, even though it is clearly illegal according to our own food laws and the laws of the European Union.

What are the alternatives? 1) you can ban the 70% of currently legal medications that horses receive to be in compliance, which would jeopardize the health of the 99% of 9 million US horses that are not slaughtered, 2) you can implement a costly 'passport' system like Great Britain (a country also greatly opposed to horse slaughter) had to implement in 2004 for ALL UK horses to track the medications that horses receive throughout their lifetimes, or 3) you can stop the slaughter of the 1% of US horses for human consumption.


BoWV 10 years ago

This is about people wish to make money at the expense of horses. Well bred and well trained horses with papers are still selling for top dollar. These horses do not turn up at slaughter auctions. Thousands of horses continue to cross the borders (Canadian and Mexican) to be slaughtered. Closing American "horse slaughter plants" has nothing to do with the horse market. In fact, the New Holland, PA and Sugarhill, Ohio auctions continue, as before. If there is a change, it is that horses are going for higher prices than they did prior to the shuttering of the slaughter houses.

Back yard breeders have run amuck. They keep their mares bred and they cry for the reopening of slaughter houses. It is about being able to make a dollar at the expense of a horse. HOW ABOUT GETTING A JOB?! The horsepeople I know work to be able to support their horses and to take good care.

Anyone who is not familiar with horses or the nightmare places from hell where horses were slaughtered in this country should educate himself/herself. No person with an ounce of humanity, integrity or knowledge of horses could put their stamp of approval on this! Horse slaughter, as Hettinger wrote, "caters to the lowest common denominator in society".


MJNYC 10 years ago

It is time for those who own horses to be responsible for their horses. The only people who have driven down the prices of horses are the breeders who breed way too much and think of those that they bring into this world as "disposable".

They are not disposable. They are not old sweaters. They are sentient beings who deserve respect.

Those who continue to destroy the horse world, those breeders and those who believe slaughter is the answer are the only ones responsible for the low prices of horses. They are also responsible for our horses being sent to Mexico to be stabbed to death.

End this barbarism now. Call your senators and representatives and ask them to bring S 311 and HR 503 to the floor for a vote!


JohnHolland 10 years ago

The slaughter exports for January 2008 were 9,944 horses. In January of 2007, before the first plant closed, we slaughtered or exported to slaughter an almost identical number (9,975). Blaming horse prices on a lack of slaughter is therefore impossible. In many cases (like the Oren Dorell story in USA Today), we provided this information to the authors before they wrote their pro-slaughter propaganda. It begs the question of who is paying for this propaganda campaign?


LMatte 10 years ago

Quoted in an ABC article: (Google)

Richard Koehler, the vice president of BelTex, a foreign-owned company.

He said American horse meat is "the best in the world."

Don't be a fool. The only reason horse slaughter exist is because of the $25.00 per pound it brings from the rich overseas.

Horse slaughter is very much happening today as it has in the past. There is no reason to blame horse prices on horse slaughter.

Why don't all you ill minded breeders that will breed ANYTHING you can get your hands on STOP?

Seems to me if prices are so bad like you have been compaining about since BEFORE the slaughter houses in the United States closed you would have gelded your worthless stallions? But no pregnant mares by the truck load are being shipped to slaughter in Canada and Mexico because you all "horse people" are worthless no good for nothing all you care about is money breeding FAILURES.



LMatte 10 years ago

Oh and by the way! These foreign owned slaughter houses while in the US and now in Canada and Mexico sell their horse meat as "United States Wild Horse Meat" implying the horses are wild and free from drugs! HA HA NOT they are your backyard pets, race horses, etc. that you wormed last week and gave bute to yesterday, steroids? Now that makes a good horse steak! We as Americans are poisoning the French and so on with our "NOT TO BE USED ON ANIMALS RAISED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION" horse meat.

All of you that drop Princess off at the auction and walk away thinking they would be purchased by a loving home are fooling yourselves. Horse meat is in high demand now that Canada has an overwhelming amount of horse slaughter houses popping up. OH NO!!! Canada also has horses starving and horses being abused! Why on earth would that happen with so many slaughter houses available? Could it be that slaughter and abuse have no affect on one another? Please do your research and quit blaming horse slaughter on EVERYTHING horse related. The only thing I can come up with is you have a problem dealing with reality.


Bon Apitite.


LMatte 10 years ago

John Holland good question

" It begs the question of who is paying for this propaganda campaign?"

Could it be the Belgium horse slaughter house owners? Maybe the French? Oh goodness with all the millions of dollars they make off of "American Horse Meat - The Best in the World" could they be spending a couple hundred here or there spreading their propaganda?

Geez maybe so...


FURY 10 years ago

The horse a companion demesticated pet is being bred to supply horse slaughter. The horse has the value of a cow because that's how they are being marketed, sold by the pound and butchered. Now why do you supposed this happened to an American Icon.....Wyeth drugs for one, keeping pregnant mares on a urine collection line, in operation for about 20 years now and thousands of what they call by products are born, not sold to homes, butchered. Then we have the over breeders, all over the United States looking for that perfect foal. Slaughtering horses did this, supply in demand. A big money business. Horse slaughter can not be an option. instead of making ridiculous excuses about the so called un wanted, put on your thinking cap, and help stop this heartless money making business, and get the horse back to it's rightful place in this world. Right now pet patties for Europe. Stop Horse Slaughter, Stop the breeding that supplies it. Instead of flapping your mouth....take a ride, check out all the feed lots, and look at all the horses being bred, fattened up for dinner plates in Europe. HORSES ARE NOT COWS. SAVE OUR HORSES


MJNYC 10 years ago

Very good point, Fury - and don't forget that they are finding that Premarin (or whatever they market this junk as) is causing cancer.

We reap what we soe.


JoAnne67 10 years ago

Why an auction and not a private sale? Then the owners can set a proper price on their horse. Oh and there is no such thing a humane slaughter. Get real! As the comments show, most americans are totally for the abolish of American horses being slaughtered. Its time to except it and turn are attentions on fixing this over abundance of horses that we created.


fondag 10 years ago

You have a wonderful group of readers who have taken the time to put the story straight. Bravo to them. Maybe someday journalism will become more ethical and reporters will actually do their research before writing emotional slanted stories that misinform.


JoyceMoore 10 years ago

The reason Saffer's horse didn't bring in a 'decent' price is because Saffer is not breeding quality horses. Saffer admits that "A couple of years ago, that horse probably would have brought $400" which is the price the killers would have paid for it. Want more $ for your horses? STOP BREEDING HORSES WITH GLARING CONFORMATION FAULTS. Instead of running 50 sub-standard horses, invest in high quality breeding stock.

If you want to know who's funding the pro-slaughter campaign, you need to look no further than to the American Quarter Horse Association and its paid lobbyist, former senator Conrad (kill them all) Burns! Instead of throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and journalists, the AQHA should become part of the solution. The vast majority of horses going to slaughter are young stock-bred types (read: Quarter Horses). The money thrown at pro-slaughter campaign could have helped to support the euthanasia funds created by rescue organizations across the country. The AQHA is positioned to lead all registries toward doing what is best for the horses but they choose not to.

AQHA members, it's time to wake up. Your membership and registration fees are being used to fund the slaughter of our horses. Their blood is on your hands.


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