Supply and Demand Part 2

This is the second of three parts addressing the behemoth of an issue that is horse slaughter.  In Part 1 we discussed our problems with the current regulations (or lack thereof!) in regards to transport and animal documentation.  Today, we get into the nitty-gritty stuff – the slaughterhouses themselves.

One of the biggest issues with horse slaughter in North America is that horses are “processed” in mass assembly line plants that were originally intended for cattle.  Horses and cattle are very different animals!

For starters, horses have about twice the volume of blood per body weight that cows do.  Their blood is also much harder to effectively treat.  Remember how horses are often given medication that’s not fit for human consumption?  It can be problematic for pets too.  Ivermectin, a very common dewormer, is actually fatal to some breeds of dog.  This means that, unlike with beef, the “extra bits”, ie. anything not marketable for people, cannot be used in pet food.  The combination of these two things creates massive amounts of by-product that the facilities are ill-equipped to handle.

Pretty gross, right?

Every horse slaughter plant in the States, including the state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility in Illinois, has had major environmental violations.  Former Kaufman, Texas Mayor Paula Brook had the misfortune of having a horse slaughter plant running in her town while she was in charge.  You can read her description of what it was like in this letter; apparently bloody waste water would sometimes back up into residents’ bathtubs and chunks of dead horse would wind up scattered around town.  Needless to say, she’s anti-slaughter!

Not only do these facilities lead to processing problems, but they make humane treatment nearly impossible.  Cattle are a lot less agile than horses, with significantly less flexible necks.  Stun rooms that will properly restrain a cow don’t have the same effect on a horse.  Horses are also more difficult to stun than cattle – their brain placement is different.  This leads to many horses being repeatedly shot in the head and neck with the captive bolt before they actually succumb.

There’s a reasonably graphic video on this site, along with some very damning statistics.  In undercover video footage of two straight days at a slaughter plant, over forty percent of horses were not stunned on the first shot.  The auditing standard for humane slaughter is less than five percent!  One horse had to be shot 11 times before it was finally rendered unconscious.  There was also evidence of horses regaining awareness while being hoisted and bled out.  Not freaking acceptable!

This is not to say that we find horse slaughter inherently evil; we simply feel the whole North American slaughter process requires a drastic overhaul.  The following video is from an abattoir in Britain.  Ironically enough, it’s meant to be anti-slaughter!

However, if you ignore the propaganda and watch the actual process, you’ll see horses being led individually into a room the size of a large box stall and then killed with a single bullet.  There are no panicking animals and no missed shots.  It’s not pleasant to watch, but nothing screams inhumane either.  It is a hell of a lot more expensive to run…

We’ll get into feasibility in Part 3.


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Posted on December 14, 2011, in horse, Misc Horsies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I agree the entire slaughter process is a huge problem when it comes to horses. I’m against current horse slaughter techniques. I’m also against people sending their pets to slaughter for food. We wouldn’t do it to our cats and dogs. I would like to see more humane slaughter practices here in North America.

    Anyhow, kudos to you two for your bravery in opening this can of worms.

    • I need to add, I’m actually impressed with the English Abbatoir, it’s clean and quiet unlike what we see hear in North America.
      I though discover a new hate on at all those people who throw these animals away because they no longer want them for whatever stupid reason.
      I think perhaps we should have a serious look at how we the owners, breeders, trainers, riders etc. view horses and treat them.

  2. I am loving this series. I know I tend to be vulernable to the We Do Not Eat Companion Animals End Of Discussion moral side of things, but the factual parts are very, very relevant. If the pro-slaughter groups understood that those who run these slaughter houses are actually sleezy foreign interests who thumb their noses at our laws, there may be a quick change of opinion. The environmental impacts of this industry are HUGE. I reposted that letter on my Facebook; it had been in my files for some time. Horrendous!

    I watched the British video too and it was difficult, but yes, humane. I would still have a problem with slaughter if it followed these procedures only because of the other reasons you mention, including the fact that most horsemeat is poisoned by the supplements and drugs we give horses in this country, but also is just an easy out for irresponsible breeding and care. I would rather see more reponsible horse ownership than slaughter houses.

  3. The problem with using a gunshot like that is that if the horse moves at the wrong moment it’s easy to miss and have an nasty injury rather than death, especially the way they were holding the gun. I’d prefer to see some method of restraining the horse without causing panic, and a backup plan for horses that are just too nervous.

  4. Hello, just thought I’d add to this seeing as I’m from England!

    There’s definitely a different mentality towards horse slaughter here. It’s not pleasant and many people are against it obviously, but ‘taking your horse to the knackerman’ is seen by some people here as an alternative method of euthanasia, in the same way that people may take their horses to the local hunt to be shot and used to feed the hounds. Obviously this is all very dependent on whether the horse has had drugs which make it unsuitable for consumption, but there are quite a few people who believe that a quick shot from the knackerman is better way for your horse to go than injection. Some owners even take their horses to the slaughterhouse themselves, and hold them whilst they’re shot. As more and more vets favour injection over gunshot there seems to be a rise in people taking their older horses to the hunt… so much so that the hunts can often no longer keep up with the demand for their services, so people take their horses to slaughter instead. The local knackerman round here even offers an at home euthanasia service, for those who don’t want their animals entering the food chain.

    There’s always going to be unscrupulous dealers who buy up riding school ponies and pick up free older horses to send to Potters, but from what I’ve heard about slaughter in England compared to Mexico and Canada it doesn’t seem like too bad an end. Much better than ending up starving and neglected! Horses being shipped to Europe for slaughter is another story however…

  5. While I will never agree with horse slaughter, I have to say I was impressed with the conditions in that English abattoir. The horses were all being properly fed, they all had good weight and looked healthy! The common enclosure was a bit too small for my liking, but I don’t know if they spend only a few hours or a few days there. The way they were put down with a single bullet to the head is certainly the cleanest death possible for an equine. And the fact that they showed no fear when being lead to the kill room shows that proper measures were taken to ensure that the horses would not be aware of their fate until the time of their death.

    Now do I think that this is going to happen in the U.S.? Hell, no! Is this the solution for dealing with over breeding and unwanted horses? NO! Because those unwanted horses were never bred to be processed meat in the first place! No to mention those unwanted horses are more often than not skinny, neglected and full of drugs!

    And by the way, what kind of a crappy human being do you have to be that you treat your horse as a pet companion while it has some use to you and then suddenly it becomes livestock when you realize you can’t use it anymore and actually have to spend some money to to: a)keep taking care of a horse that is no longer rideable b)care for a horse that you were unable to sell or c)euthanize it!

    And then the best of all, is the argument that slaughter is better than letting horses slowly starve to death. Really?? Should we do the same to the poor starving children in Africa? Because it sure beats starving to death, solves the over population problem and solves the lack of food problem! Perfect, right? Oh wait, there’s just one SMALL problem: slaughtering humans is frowned upon. Luckily, you can say that horses are just livestock and the moral issue goes away…

    \end rant

  6. I agree, the abattior was not a bad way to go (relatively). I also appreciate that they took time out of their day to shoot the foal (as seen in the video) rather than leave it to die slowly in a gut pile (as seen in America). However, if slaughter was legal in America, the abattior style of slaughter would only be seen in a few “mom and pop” operations, the big meat processing corperations have no interest in a slow and measured process like this. Horses ushered in by hand one at a time? Careful aiming and reloading? Chasing them down a chute and rapid firing is soooo much more co$t effective, my friend.

  7. Some time ago I`ve had to make a decision. To keep my almost 30 years old pony (Cushings disease, arthritic knees, and a long and unfortunate history of laminitis) or to keep my 10 years old horse (rideable, healthy). I couldn`t afford to keep both anymore.

    I didn`t want to burden someone else with the responsibility of caring for an old pony, who was no longer rideable, definetely not suitable for children, who was a very hard keeper and had to be blanketed during the winter and who had to wear a grazing muzzle during the summer months.

    I didn`t want to sell my riding horse, since I`ve got a serious medical condition that I am luckily able to keep easily at bay with regular riding on a horse with smooth gaits (i.e. my horse).

    Slaughter or euthanasia – well, here in Germany the law for animal protection is pretty strict when it comes to animals who are not designated for slaughter. You are NOT ALLOWED to kill your animal/pet, unless it is in severe pain and/or so fatally ill, that any treatment won`t make him better.

    When your horse gets his equine passport, he`s automatically designated for slaugther. (You can change this status into “not designated for slaugther” anytime you want – but you can`t reverse it. ) When your horse gets medications (de-wormer etc.), you`ve got to wait a certain period of time to make sure that all medications are out of his system and to make sure he`s safe for human/animal consumption. Or – you can still take him to the slaughterhouse, but you won`t get any money for his meat. .

    My decision was not an easy one and you may have already guessed it by now – my pony had to go.

    My vet, whom I knew very well and who had treated the pony for the last years and knew all about ponys medical history, promised me more than once, that she would put my pony to sleep if she`d be seriously ill or if I should decide not wanting to keep her any longer.

    Naturally, not being exactly anti-slaughter, but wanting to spare my pony unnecessary suffering, I gave my vet a call.

    Surprise, surprise – she bluntly told me that she wouldn`t euthanize my pony. She didn`t exactly told me why – I knew that by law she wasn`t, well, “exactly” *coughcough* allowed to euthanize a pony who wasn`t seriously ill at that time, but I thought that maybe we could “bend” the law a little (the pony has had a long medical history, after all). Nope, no chance. She wouldn`t euthanize and I can only guess that there might have been a few diffuse threats to her from some boarders from my former barn to report my vet to the authorities…which would`ve been very bad for my vets business practice. (I`ve got a new vet now.)

    That left me with only one option. A trusted friend suggested a slaughter house not very far away, who was known to take in the occasional horse for slaughter (but was or is primarily a “normal” slaughterhouse for cattle). I gave them a call and they were very nice. Yes, I could bring the pony by myself. Yes, I could take a look in the slaughter room before. Yes, the slaughter room would be clean and there`d be no other horses and/or cattle. Yes, I`d be allowed to lead my pony in by myself, but had to go out for the shot. Yes, my boyfriend would be allowed to take a look afterwards to make sure that pony was really dead (and not being lead out again through a backdoor to be sold to godknowswhom or being shipped to Italy…) – since I figured I`d be too gutless to take a look myself. No, my pony wouldn`t be processed to steaks due to some drugs she got long ago.

    The final morning came. After brushing my pony for the last time and loading her onto the trailer, which went smooth – she was always very easy to load – we drove off to the slaugther house. I parked my car and went in to announce our arrival, in the meantime my boyfriend climbed into the trailer to soothe the pony a little (she didn`t mind being loaded and being driven around, but she DID mind standing in a trailer who wasn`t moving…).

    I was requested to maneuver the trailer alongside the back entrance, which I did. I took the announced look into the slaughter room. I unloaded my pony, who was not afraid, just a bit wary. We went the few meters into the slaughter room together (there weren`t any chutes or something – it was just a plain room, garage-like with a concrete-like floor – now she got SERIOUSLY wary like “wait, this could not be right !”.

    I threw the leading rope over to the slaughter, ran out and broke down next to the trailer ramp, wailing and covering my ears. After what seemed like an aeon to me (but was, as my boyfriend told me, just a few seconds), my boyfriend tapped me on the shoulder and said: “You can take your hands off your ears now. It`s over.” He took a look into the slaughter room (yupp, she was really dead), we closed the trailer and drove off, now him behind the wheel because I was (and am again now, writing this…) crying like the banshee I was.

    Knowing my pony well (30 years…), knowing her absolute disgust for vets and needles…I don`t think that, altogether, being slaughtered wasn`t unecessary stressful for her.
    She had about 10-15 seconds, during which she was wary and a tad bit agitated – that`s all. She wasn`t left alone until the last few seconds. She had people she knew (my boyfriend and me) around her until the last few seconds. She didn`t had to endure a long transportation with an unfamiliar trailer or unfamiliar other horses, or being loaded and unloaded by people she didn`t knew.

    Would I recommend slaughter for anyone who wants or needs to get rid of a horse ?

    Yes, if you do it the way I did and in a similar facility to spare your horse unecessary suffering. No, if you just want to get rid of your horse, not caring how long his last ride will be or where and by whom it`ll be slaughtered….

    Will I take my remaining horse to the slaughter one day, maybe out of similar reasons ?

    No. After that one experience with my pony, my horse is going to be most likely my last equine and if she`s not longer rideable one day hopefully far away in the future, I`ll have to swallow the frog and choose a harder way than horseback riding to keep my medical condition at bay or just accept that damn malady…I`ve seriously underestimated the emotionally aspects of the whole matter.

    I pay for killing my pony. Every time I see a chestnut horse or pony, every time I see an ad for pony tack, every time I hear someone tell stories about his or her pony, every time I see a horseblanket in a small size, every time certain songs are being played on the radio, every time someone asks me how many horses I`ve had or have, every time I see a brown dressage saddle (pony had one), everytime I tell someone this story – it f*cking hurts and I`ll cry as if pony was slaugthered yesterday (yes, I`m crying right now). This is an ongoing lesson on “how to be not selfish”, it`s a hard one and one I`m not willing to take it twice.

  8. I didn’t watch the whole video, but the first thing that stuck out to me…all of the horses in the beginning looked fit (if not fat), healthy, and happy/content. Not so in the American facilities. All other issues aside, if horse slaughter in this country were regulated and controlled in a manner more similar to that of the video (at least what I saw of it), I would not wholly be opposed. However, that would mean horses would need to be raised from birth like cattle with the specific intention of becoming slaughtered for food. I really don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  9. @AVCG I’m sending hugs to you. I’m sorry bidding your old friend good-bye had to be so difficult, but from what you’ve described, I think you did a very responsible thing. The vet left you without any other viable choices.

    Perhaps some counseling from someone who is experienced in animal grief issues could be helpful?

  10. Snarky, your new RSS feeds keep showing up as dynamic, which does not work in my news reader. Right now, comments are working, but the main feed is not. (Sigh. It’s not ENTIRELY your fault).

  11. I watched the video and agree that if slaughter is going to happen I’d rather it happen in that plant than in one of the craptastic ones they had over here.

    I’ve seen video of horses in American and Mexican slaughter houses. They are freaked the hell out the whole time. Run thru a chute, zapped with cattle prods when they won’t go, standing in a small rectangle box waiving their head around while someone tries to kill them. Not ok.

    Horses chilling in a holding pen with hay. Man calmly leading horse into a stall like room with a halter on it’s head. Aiming and firing the killing shot within seconds of being in the room. The horses don’t even pin their ears! They were whistling at one (british equivalent to our clucking?) who didn’t want to go, no cattle prods there! And it looked like horses are delivered in small groups or by individuals so less stress in the hauling too.

    I still would never send my animals to slaughter and prefer that the whole mess be cleaned up by breeding less and people not being so gutless and/or selfish when it comes the euthanizing old/unwanted horses.

  1. Pingback: Supply and Demand Part 3 « snarkyrider

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