Horses are an important livestock in our area. Not only are they widely used for pleasure or recreation but they are important as a source of power in the Amish community. So we have both pleasure and work or draft horses on local farms.
With few exceptions, local horse owners take good care of their livestock. But across this country we have a serious problem. Horses that are no longer wanted, for several reasons, are being turned loose in the woods or wild areas to die. They can't get enough food and are starved to death. This is an increasing problem in the U.S.
According to an article in a recent Buckeye Farm News, published by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and from several other sources, there are about 100,000 or more unwanted horses in the U.S. each year. This information comes from the Journal of Animal Science.
Numbers of unwanted horses have been climbing over the years for several reasons. According to Dr. Leah Dorman, director of food programs at OFBF's Center for Food and Animal Issues, these include the economic downturn and closing the horse processing facilities in the U.S. in 2007. Other sources include over breeding and lack of education or caring by some horse owners.
Dorman says that more than 90 percent of those taking part in the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey believe the number of unwanted horses is increasing. They also believe that neglect and abuse is on the increase. According to the Unwanted Horse Coalition that conducted the survey, unwanted horses have become "a big problem."
South Dakota University recently conducted a survey of the growing problem. Their study said that the number of unwanted horses is growing by about 150,000 a year. As they pointed out, in 2006 before horse processing facilities were closed, over 105,000 were disposed of for meat to export to foreign countries. Horse meat is not usually eaten in this country. Now thousands of horses are transported to Mexico or Canada for processing and sale to other markets.
According to OFBF, there are 326 horse sanctuary facilities in the U.S. with a capacity of 13,700 horses a year. Many of those said they are at or near capacity, turning away 36 percent of the horses brought to them. These facilities have an average budget of $2300 per horse so more than $25 million would be needed to take care of the horses being turned away.
Several solutions to this problem have been suggested. One is to get animal activists, who were responsible for the closing of horse processing facilities, to understand that horses are not "pets" but livestock with commercial value. They also need to look at the problem and help with answers that include opening horse processing facilities again in this country. Some of them with big budgets could well afford to put money into horse sanctuaries if they don't approve of using them for human food.
Activists tend to think that everything is fine and refuse to deal with the problem. Unwanted horses can be a useful resource that can help feed other parts of the world where getting enough to eat is a constant problem.
It is generally agreed that humane horse processing is far more humane that turning them loose to die of starvation or death by predators when they can no longer protect themselves. The picture of wandering, starving horses is not a pretty one. Some will say that the picture of a horse processing plant is also not "pretty." Well-managed and regulated facilities can provide a humane situation for dealing with unwanted animals.
At least two states are considering legislation to build horse processing plants in their states. They have large, open areas where horses get turned loose and are very aware of the growing problem.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer and works with the local Farm Bureau Board.