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Characterizations of Horses at Auctions and in Slaughter Plants

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Abstract

Types of horses were surveyed in non-cataloged auctions (n=1,473) and at slaughter plants (n=1,348). Soundness of horses, foot condition and body condition was scored. Slaughter plant horses had substantially poorer foot and body condition, and were less sound than the auction horses. Horses with an official Bureau of Land Management freeze brand were less than 1% of all auction horses and 2% of the slaughter horses. Slaughter plants in the United States assist in maintaining a level of horse welfare by preventing old and (or) unsound working/riding horses from further neglect or abuse. INTRODUCTION The purpose of this survey was to characterize the types and kinds of horses that are sold at auctions and compare them to the types and kinds that are processed at the slaughter plants in the United States.
Characterizations of
Horses at Auctions and in
Slaughter Plants
K. McGee, J. L. Lanier, and
T. Grandin
ABSTRACT
Types of horses were surveyed in
non-cataloged auctions (n=1,473) and at
slaughter plants (n=1,348). Soundness
of horses, foot condition and body
condition was scored. Slaughter plant
horses had substantially poorer foot and
body condition, and were less sound
than the auction horses. Horses with an
official Bureau of Land Management
freeze brand were less than 1% of all
auction horses and 2% of the slaughter
horses. Slaughter plants in the United
States assist in maintaining a level of
horse welfare by preventing old and (or)
unsound working/riding horses from
further neglect or abuse.
Key Words: Equine, Horse, Slaughter,
Auction
INTRODUCTION
The purpose of this survey was to
characterize the types and kinds of
horses that are sold at auctions and
compare them to the types and kinds
that are processed at the slaughter plants
in the United States.
METHODS
Auctions. A total of 1,473 horses in
ten different auctions were observed in
the states of Texas, Kentucky, Indiana,
Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona,
California and Pennsylvania. All of the
auctions were open, non-catalogued
sales that sold horses valued from $50
to $3500. Auctions were selected by
Discussions with horse traders and
USDA officials assisted in the selection
of auctions thought to typically sell
horses valued less than $3,500.
Slaughter plants. During the
survey the slaughter plant in Illinois
closed and was not surveyed, leaving 3
plants in the U.S., 2 in Texas and the
third in Nebraska. A total of 1,348
horses from 81 different loads were
observed.
Data Collection. The observer sat in
the stands during the auction to record
data on each individual horse. At the
slaughter plants information was
gathered on individual horses as they
were being weighed and given a plant
“back tag” number for identification
purposes. The following data was
collected on individual horses at the
auctions and slaughter plants1) gender,
2) classification, 3) body condition, 4)
soundness, 5) foot condition, 6) color,
7) age, and 8) breed.
Body condition score (BCS) was
scored on a 5-point scale adapted from
Henneke et al. (1983) with 1 =
emaciated: may or may not have muscle
wasting depending on age, very little
flesh, ribs showing, no underlying body
fat; spinous processes, tuber coxae and
ischii projecting prominently: bones of
withers, shoulders and neck showing
prominently, 2 = thin: individual
vertebrae not easily visually identifiable
but can be felt, fat deposited along back
and shoulders, but bony structures
easily palpable. Ribs still visible;
withers, shoulders and neck
accentuated, 3 = moderate: bony
structures no longer prominent or easily
palpated, fat at tail-head makes
hindquarters look smooth, depending on
conformation. Neck blends smoothly
into shoulders, 4 = moderately fat: May
have crease down back, difficult to feel
ribs. Fat around tail-head very soft, area
along withers and down behind
shoulders filled with fat. Noticeable
thickening of neck, fat deposited along
inner thighs, and 5 = obese: obvious
crease down back. Patchy, lumpy fat
along ribs. Flank filled with fat. Inner
thighs may rub together. Bulging fat
around tail-head, along withers, behind
shoulders and along neck. All horses
were scored for soundness. Horses that
appeared sound with normal gait were
recorded as sound, unless they showed
unsoundness, as classified in the U.S.
Pony Club Guide to Conformation and
Movement (Harris, 1997). Hoof
condition was scored on a 5-point
system based on the adapted scoring
system for body condition with A= very
poor: toe or heel too long or short, dry
and/or cracked, incorrect angle (obtuse
or acute), B= poor: overgrown, dry or
thrushy, cracks or chips, incorrect angle
(obtuse or acute), C= acceptable:
reasonable angle and length, may have
chips but no cracks, shoes not
necessary, D=good: little to no visible
defects, good to excellent angle and
hydration. If shod, shoes fitted
correctly, and not overly worn.
Corrective shoeing acceptable, E=
excellent: No visible defects, correct
angle and hydration. If shod, shoes
fitted correctly and not overly worn, or
loose nails. No corrective shoeing.
Note: no horses were observed at either
the slaughter plants or the auctions that
would have been considered as having
excellent feet.
RESULTS
Dramatic differences between types
and condition (Table 1) of horses were
seen at slaughter plants and auctions.
Slaughter plant horses had substantially
poorer foot (P <.001) and body
condition (P <.001), and were less
sound than the auction horses. The body
condition of horses at the auctions was
2% emaciated, 20% thin, 67% good,
and 11% fat or obese. At the slaughter
plants 3% were emaciated, 27% thin,
59% good, and 11% were fat or obese.
Very poor foot condition were observed
in 2% of the auction horses and in 10%
of the slaughter horses. Of the auction
horses, 54% had acceptable foot
condition, compared to 31% of the
slaughter horses. Severe behavior
problems observed at the auctions (2%)
and at the slaughter plants (4%) were
repeated rearing, bucking, and
stereotypies such as repetitive head
shaking. These behaviors were more
complex than simple acute stress
reactions to being in an unfamiliar
environment.
Age and soundness of horses.
Eleven percent of the equines seen in all
auctions were under two years of age
and 3% were over twenty. Old
(geriatric) riding horses were 7% of the
auction horses. Only geriatric and
juvenile age data was collected in
Pennsylvania and in the slaughter
plants. There were 211 (16%) geriatric
horses and one horse under 2 years of
age at the slaughter plant.
Soundness of horses between the
auctions and slaughter plants varied.
Sound usable riding horses (47%) were
the single largest classification of horses
at the auctions, and only 13% were
sound at the slaughter plants. At the
auctions 8% of the horses were
obviously unsound, compared to 28%
of horses at the slaughter plants.
Color and breed of horses.
Quarter-horses or Quarter-horse types
were the most common breed of horse
in the auctions and in the slaughter
plants. It has been estimated that there
were 6.9 million horses in 1999 in the
U.S. (AHC, 1999) According to the
American Quarter Horse Association
there were 2.7 million registered
Quarter-horses in the U.S for the year
2000. Thus registered Quarter-horses
comprise of approximately 40% of all
horses in the U.S. Approximately 1/4 of
all auction and slaughter horses were
either Quarter-horses or Quarter-horse
types. It is unknown how many of these
were registered. Thoroughbreds or
thoroughbred types comprised about
7% of all auction horses, and 16% of all
slaughter horses. Standardbreds were
approximately 4% of the horses at both
auctions and slaughter plants. Horses
with an official Bureau of Land
Management freeze brand were less
than 1% of all auction horses and 2% of
the slaughter horses.
Ten percent of all horses were grays.
USDA veterinarians interviewed
indicated that 70 to 90% of all gray
horses have melanosis tumors. Every
gray horse that goes to slaughter is
required to undergo an additional post-
mortem health inspection by the USDA
veterinarian. Depending on the location
and extent of the tumors, part or whole
carcasses are condemned.
DISCUSSION
Discussions with traders indicated
that if a horse was sound enough to be
ridden and it was not real old, they
could usually get more money for it if
they sold it for riding than if they sold it
for slaughter. As a result, most horses
are diverted away from the slaughter
plants until they lose all potential as a
riding or working horse. However, a
severe behavior problem in an
otherwise usable riding or working
horses may render the horse non-
saleable to the public and may be taken
directly to slaughter. The horse industry
is complex and multi-faceted. The life
histories of horses prior to being sold
for slaughter needs to be understood
before appropriate regulations and
decisions are made about the industry.
Although this study did not examine the
life history of horses, discussions with
industry people assisted in
understanding the complexity of the
industry. According to our interviews,
racehorses are frequently sold through
private treaty and not through auctions
Often these horses are sold to
intermediary traders who re-train or
continue with the current training of the
horse before selling it back into the
racing industry. Injured horses typically
go either to a feedlot or directly to
slaughter. The average age of a
racehorse that becomes lame or
otherwise “breaks-down” is six years of
age. It is believed by people in the
industry, that this is due to the horses
undergoing a different training regime
with every owner. From the interviews
with people in the horse industry it was
learned that it is not unusual for a horse
to have been owned by 5 or 6 people by
the age of six.
California markets. The law in
California (California Proposition 6),
which forbids the sale of horses for
slaughter, may have worsened welfare
for some horses. Some horses that
would have remained in the U.S. are
being transported to Mexico and
subjected to many auctions and rerouted
back to the U.S. resulting in longer
transport time and an increase in the
number of dehydrated horses arriving at
slaughter plants. It is likely that some of
the horses are passing through the hands
of more traders, which would greatly
increase stress and be detrimental to
their welfare.
The vast majority of industry people
interviewed believed that overall horse
welfare would decrease if the option for
slaughter was prohibited in the U.S.
Most felt that one of five welfare
concerns would happen to the majority
of non-usable riding/working horses. 1)
The horse would be turned loose to fend
for itself. Often these horses starve or
die from exposure, as they do not know
how to search for proper food and
shelter. 2) The horse will be kept on the
property but neglected until its death. 3)
The horse would be taken to a remote
location, euthanized. This can be of
concern if chemical euthanasia is used.
Birds and mammals that feed on the
carcass may die from the ingestion of
the chemical. Some states require that
carcasses are to be buried a sufficient
depth in order to prevent scavenging.
Many horse owners find the cost
prohibitive to rent earth-moving
equipment in order to excavate a hole
large enough bury a horse. Water safety
is another concern. Some states prohibit
the burial of carcasses in order to
prevent pollutants from entering the
water source. 4) The horses may enter
an underground horse trade that would
circumvent veterinary and brand
inspections, increase distance traveled
before arriving at a slaughter plant, and
perhaps increase the number of times
bought and sold before reaching a
slaughter plant. These horses would
most likely be transported to either
Canada or Mexico for slaughter. 5) The
horse would be used in Mexico as a
working or riding horse until it dies.
Interviews with industry people
indicated that the level of horse welfare
in Mexico is typically poorer than the
minimal welfare standards in the U. S.
APPLICATION
Decisions regarding the horse
industry must be based on a
comprehensive understanding of the
industry. Since the completion of the
survey, the Nebraska plant has closed.
The remaining two slaughter plants
should be encouraged to remain open in
order to maintain a certain level of
American horse welfare. These
remaining slaughter plants are serving a
purpose as they are humanely
euthanizing horses that are no longer
viable due to behavior problems, old
age, health, lameness, etc. There is a
public misconception that most horses
sold at lower end auctions are sold to
the slaughter plants. This survey found
that slaughter plants were purchasing
only those horses that were not being
purchased as viable working animals.
The welfare problems of these lower
end horses occur prior to their arrival at
the slaughter plant. Horses at the
slaughter plants were in substantially
poorer health than the horses seen at the
auction houses, and the euthanasia of
these animals improves their welfare by
decreasing prolonged suffering.
This survey was conducted before
Foot and Mouth Disease increased the
demand for horse meat in Europe.
REFERENCES
American Horse Council. 1999.
http.//www.horsecouncil.org
Accessed 19 March 2001.
Harris, S.E. 1997. U.S. Pony Club
Guide to Conformation, Movement
and Soundness, Howell Book House,
NY.
Henneke, D.R., Potter, G.D., Kreider,
J.L., and Yeates, B.F. 1983.
Relationship between condition score,
physical measurements and body fat
percentage in mares. Equine Vet. J.
15:371-37.
Table 1. Body and foot condition scores of auction and slaughter horses. Table 2 . Classification of slaughter horses. Table 3. Classification of auction horses*.
Auction (n=1,473) Slaughter
(n=1,348) Total (n=2,821) Classification n= %Classification n= %
Body condition score n = %n = %n = %BLM Mustang (official
freeze branded) 23 2% BLM Mustang (official freeze
branded) 2<1%
Emaciated 25 2 37 3 62 2 Carriage horses 64 5% Carriage Horses 49 3%
Thin 289 20 359 27 648 23 Draft horses 94 7% Draft Horses 36 2%
Good 991 67 792 59 1783 63 Feedlot known location 69 5% Native American reservation
(branded) 3<1%
Fat 161 11 149 11 310 11 Feedlot unknown location 55 4% Mules or Donkeys 95 7%
Obese 7<1 1<1 8<1 Native American
reservation (branded) 57 4% Mustangs** 14 1%
Missing data 0 0 10 <1 10 <1 Mustangs* 57 4% Pony or miniature 163 11%
Mules or Donkeys 4<1% Race horses off racetrack 21 1%
Foot condition score n = %n = %n = %Pony or miniature 14 1% Riding horses*** 1090 74%
Very poor 24 2 140 10 164 6 Racehorses off racetrack 58 4%
Poor 387 26 734 54 1121 40 Riding horses** 853 63%
Acceptable 796 54 422 31 1218 43 *These horses typically had a classic phenotype: heavy feet,
large head and a large compact body. Industry refers to this
body type as a mustang or mustang type horse. Often these
horses are feral.
*At the auctions there were 0% horses observed in the
following categories – fattened feedlot horse of unknown
origin and fattened feedlot horse of known origin. Horses
from PMU facilities were either not observed or they
were placed in another category because they could not
be identified.
Excellent 104 7 42 3 146 5 **Riding horses include various breeds of horse such as
Arabians, Fox-trotters, Tennessee Walkers, Thoroughbreds,
Paints, and Quarter-Horses.
**These horses typically had a classic phenotype: heavy
feet, large head, and a large compact body. Industry
refers to this body type as a mustang or mustang type
horse. Often these horses are feral.
Missing data* 162 11 10 <1 172 6 ***Riding horses include various breeds of horse such as
Arabians, Fox-trotters, Tennessee Walkers,
Thoroughbreds, Paints, and Quarter-Horses.
1Gelding, stallions, and colts
2Mares and fillies
*Missing data is from the Pennsylvania auction. This was the first auction visited before data collection categories were finalized.
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