Unwanted horses may present humane issues as hay, feed prices rise
The fact that there is no marketplace for low-end or unwanted horses is beginning to concern officials at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP.)
Secretary Ben Brancel said that people who have unwanted pets can utilize the local humane societies and large animals like cattle and hogs can be shipped. But since there are now no horse slaughtering facilities in the United States, people often have no way to get rid of horses they no longer want or can't afford to feed.
The latter concern is even greater this year as the widespread drought drives the price of hay and other feedstuffs higher, perhaps putting the price of horse ownership beyond the financial means of some horse owners, he said.
Brancel, in a discussion with members of the policy board for his department, said even if horse owners can afford feed for their horses, that hay might be difficult to find this year.
The secretary, who said he has three of the "hayburners" at his own farm, believes the state is going to see more issues this year related to humane concerns with horses. "I just have this gut feeling it's going to be a problem this year."
State veterinarian Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt said that there are some buyers in the state who are working with feedlots and shipping horses into Mexico for slaughter. Horses are still being slaughtered for human consumption in Mexico and Canada.
Much of the market for horsemeat is in Europe. Several years ago the three U.S. slaughter plants for horses were shut down. In Illinois, where one of the plants was located, a state law was passed to close the plant.
Changes at the federal level now allow horses to be slaughtered in this country for meat, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is prevented from automatically providing inspection services for those plants, the ag officials said.
Ehlenfeldt said that plants could potentially open if they were willing to pay for inspectors themselves.
Board member Dick Cates commented that the second-largest number of livestock premises registered with the state are those with horses. Ehlenfeldt said there are over 30,000 locations with cattle in the state and 18,000 with horses - which is the second largest category.
"In talking to veterinarians from other states some of them have said they have had problems with unwanted horses being released on public lands," Ehlenfeldt said. "There have also been cases where people have their trailer parked somewhere and they come back and there's another horse tied to it."
A small number of rescue operation working to find homes for unwanted horses is "not going to be up to the scope of this job," said Brancel.