THE ECO­NOMICS OF KILL PENS

EQUUS - - Immune Function -

Dur­ing our res­cue of Far­ley, my hus­band and I learned a lot about the seamy world of “kill pens,” which are tem­po­rary stops on the way to the slaugh­ter­house for horses pur­chased at auc­tion by kill buy­ers.

So­cial me­dia has fa­cil­i­tated rapid-fire com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­gard­ing the plight of count­less horses, ponies, don­keys and mules of all ages and sizes who have been rel­e­gated to kill pens and tagged “slaugh­ter bound” with im­mi­nent dead­lines for their “bail.” Some are saved but many more ship out on a one-way trip to slaugh­ter plants in Mex­ico or Canada— by some es­ti­mates, 130,000 an­nu­ally.

How do horses end up there? “They’re older, they’re in­jured, they’re ill or they have be­hav­ioral prob­lems or a lack of train­ing,” says Jen­nifer Wil­liams, PhD, pres­i­dent of Blue­bon­net Equine Hu­mane So­ci­ety, a non­profit that res­cues, fos­ters and adopts horses in Texas. “They also end up in kill pens be­cause they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—their owner couldn’t or didn’t want to keep them, took them to an auc­tion, and a killer buyer pur­chased them. So there can be re­ally nice horses at kill pens.”

Rom­ney Sny­der, CEO of HiCal­iber Horse Res­cue in Cal­i­for­nia, agrees: “No horse is safe from entering the slaugh­ter pipe­line,” she says. “Off-the-track Thor­ough­breds, well-pa­pered Quar­ter Horses, ex­pe­ri­enced ranch horses, camp horses, fam­ily pets, year­lings and our wild BLM-branded mus­tangs all run the risk of land­ing at a feed­lot await­ing the hor­rors of slaugh­ter. It’s tragic.”

Ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about these re­al­i­ties is the key to sav­ing horses from slaugh­ter, says Tracy Stevens, founder of the Bolero Gaited Horse Adop­tion Net­work

in North Carolina. She is lead­ing an ef­fort to keep horses out of the pipe­line. “With U.S. slaugh­ter plants closed down, horses face a hor­rific trip across the bor­der jammed into trucks, usu­ally with no food or wa­ter. Many oth­er­wise well-mean­ing peo­ple are not aware of the fate that may await their fam­ily pet.”

Some horses are sold di­rectly to kill buy­ers, but most end in up in kill pens de­spite the in­ten­tions of their last own­ers. “Many folks take their horses to auc­tions in the be­lief they will get good homes, but the kill buy­ers are usu­ally there, ready to bid on any horse that is go­ing for meat price,” says Stevens. “The slaugh­ter rate at the plants can run be­tween 75 cents and $1.50 per pound.” These an­i­mals are be­ing sold pri­mar­ily for hu­man con­sump­tion, and the meat is then shipped to Europe and Ja­pan, says Stevens.

Kill pens draw a lot of at­ten­tion on so­cial me­dia, but even the most ar­dent res­cue peo­ple say it’s bet­ter to step in to help horses be­fore they get there. “If you want to save a horse, go to the auc­tion and buy him for a frac­tion of the price [that killer buy­ers will re­quire for bail],” says Wil­liams, not­ing that the price to bail a horse from kill pens is go­ing “up and up—but the de­mand for horse­meat and the price of horse­meat don’t ap­pear to be. Kill buy­ers are us­ing the threat of slaugh­ter to sell more horses. Their busi­ness is to buy and sell horses— whether it’s to in­di­vid­u­als, res­cues or slaugh­ter­houses.

“The more horses are bailed out, the higher those prices are go­ing to climb,” con­tin­ues Wil­liams. “In the past week, I’ve seen kill-buyer horses ad­ver­tised for $900 to $1,000. That is far more than they are go­ing to get if they send those horses to slaugh­ter.”

Sny­der has also ob­served this trend. “There is a mis­con­cep­tion among res­cuers, when they bail a horse from a kill buyer’s bro­ker pro­gram, that they are sav­ing a horse from slaugh­ter. Sadly, this is false,” she says. “While that par­tic­u­lar horse may be safe, an­other horse im­me­di­ately takes its place on the truck; the num­ber of horses ship­ping to slaugh­ter does not change de­spite their fer­vent ef­forts. Kill buy­ers are gen­er­ally con­tracted with the slaugh­ter plant for a cer­tain num­ber of horses, and they will de­liver that num­ber of horses re­gard­less. In the past, kill buy­ers would limit their pur­chases to the horses they could ship in a rea­son­able time, as they did not want to pay for the ad­di­tional feed for the horses. With the ar­rival of res­cuers to the scene, kill buy­ers now pur­chase a sur­plus of horses—above and be­yond their quota for ship­ping—for the very lu­cra­tive sec­ondary mar­ket of ‘res­cue’.”

So when you “bail” a horse from the kill pen, it sim­ply makes room on the truck for an­other doomed an­i­mal. In ad­di­tion, there is the in­creased risk of con­ta­gion and in­jury when horses are crowded into small pens in kill lots. Most will re­quire quar­an­tine and re­hab by the time they are bailed out.

Wil­liams’ best ad­vice: “Sup­port res­cues who in­ter­cept horses be­fore they get to the auc­tions. When we take in owner sur­ren­ders, estrays or seized horses, we keep those horses out of the auc­tion and slaugh­ter pipe­line. But if they’re not adopted, we can­not help more of them. When we tell own­ers and law en­force­ment we are at our limit, some of those horses will go to auc­tion and end up in a kill lot.”

If you ever need to sell your horse for any rea­son, ad­vises Stevens, “be sure to price your horse above the per-pound slaugh­ter rate, or re­ally dou­ble-check the ref­er­ences of anyone who wants to buy your horse that you do not know.” Some ask for a buy-back clause, but the truth is that when you let a horse go, you re­ally no longer have con­trol over that horse’s fu­ture.

“Ev­ery horse’s life de­pends upon their cur­rent own­ers be­ing care­ful,” Stevens adds. “Avoid ‘free to good home’ of­fers, and be se­lec­tive about where your horse goes. Bet­ter yet, keep your horse if you can, or have him hu­manely eu­th­a­nized if you must.”

Kill pens draw a lot of at­ten­tion on so­cial me­dia, but even the most ar­dent res­cue peo­ple say it’s bet­ter to step in to help horses be­fore they get there.

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