COALITION TO
BAN HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES



CARRIAGE HORSES
Horse Slaughter/Animal Cruelty

Survey of Trucking Practices and Injury to Slaughter Horses

Temple Grandin, Kasie McGee and Jennifer Lanier
Department of Animal Sciences
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1171


ABSTRACT

Sixty-three trailer loads arriving at two slaughter plants in Texas were observed in July and August of 1998. A total of 1008 horses were surveyed. Forty-two percent of the horses were transported on double decks, 9% on straight single deck semi-trailers and 49% on goosenecks. The average number of horses on each load was double decks 28, single deck straight trailers 22 and goosenecks 11. The maximum number transported on each type of trailer was double decks 45, single deck straight trailers 25 and goosenecks 22. Ninety-two percent of the horses arrived in good condition and 1.5% were not fit for travel. A total of 78 horses (7.7%) had severe welfare problems. Six percent 60 horses out of the 7.7% had conditions caused by owner neglect or abuse and only 1.8% (18 horses) had transport and marketing injuries severe enough to be rated a severe welfare problem. Owner problems were significantly greater than transport problems (chi square> .001). Examples of origin welfare problems were loaded with a broken leg, emaciated, foundered, race horses with bowed tendons and horses that were too weak to be transported.

Fighting was a major cause of injuries during transport and marketing. Thirteen percent of the carcasses had bruises caused by bites or kicks. Fifty-one percent of all carcass bruises were caused by bites or kicks. To reduce injuries aggressive mares and geldings must be removed and held in a separate pen in the same manner as stallions. Loads from dealers who picked up horses from more than one auction had more external injuries and carcass bruises than direct loads (chi square> .001). The authors make the following recommendations: 1) Educate horse owners they are responsible for horse welfare, 2) Horse associations should all have animal care guidelines, 3) Station USDA/APHIS trained welfare inspectors in slaughter plants, 4) Fine individuals who transport horses unfit for travel, 5) Segregate aggressive mares and geldings in the same manner as stallions, 6) Improve horse identification, 7) Implement procedures to immediately euthanize horses with severe injuries such as broken legs when they arrive after the slaughter plant is closed, 8) Inspect horse transport vehicles at truck weigh stations and at auctions, 9) To prevent transport of slaughter horses to Mexico or underground markets, the four horse slaughter plants should be encouraged to remain open. A lack of slaughter facilities will increase the number of horses which will die from neglect, 10) Double deck trailers should not be used to transport tall horses and 11) Educate horse owners to improve training methods to prevent behavior problems, which can cause a horse to be sold for slaughter. This paper also contains a report on the New Holland, Pennsylvania horse sale.

INTRODUCTION

This survey was commissioned by the USDA/APHIS to determine where welfare problems are occurring during horse transport to slaughter. This report is the first in a series of two reports. A second report will provide further information on the horse slaughter industry. In this first report the incidence of injuries during transport was surveyed. Injuries were tabulated by vehicle type: 1) double deck "pot" semi-trailers, 2) straight single deck semi trailers and 3) single deck "gooseneck" trailers. Data was also collected to determine the percentage of serious welfare problems caused by owner neglect or abuse and the percentage which occurred either during transport or while the horse was in the marketing channels. Owner welfare problems are defined as conditions which were not caused by either transport, marketing or handling in the slaughter plant. Data was also collected to determine the amount of injury occurring on vehicles and the amount of injury caused by horses fighting while they were in the transport and marketing channels.

METHODS

Sixty-three trailer loads arriving at two slaughter plants in Texas were observed in July and August of 1998. A total of 1,008 horses were surveyed. Thirty-six additional loads were also observed either arriving or loading out from the New Holland Sale in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Both major and minor injuries occurring in the three different types of trailers were tabulated for the first 500 horses. For all 1008 horses, individuals which were not fit for travel and other severe welfare problems were recorded. Due to problems with lack of cooperation by many drivers, it was impossible to get the detailed truck information that was in our proposal. Injuries and damage on the horses was tabulated shortly after the horses were unloaded. The horses were observed either in the slaughter plant holding pens or while they were handled in a tagging chute at the plant. Bruises on carcasses were observed in the cooler at each plant.

RESULTS

The results are summarized on the tables. Gooseneck trailers with a single deck and double deck trailers were used to transport the majority of horses to slaughter (Table 1). Most gooseneck trailer loads originated within the state of Texas and all the double decks originated from out-of-state (Table 2). A gooseneck trailer is designed to be pulled by a pickup. The largest gooseneck has only half the capacity of a double deck cattle truck. This is the major reason why double-deck semi trailers are used for the long out of state trips. Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4 show representative samples of the different types of trailers. The average number of horses on each type of trailer was Double Decks 28, Single deck semis 22 and goosenecks 11. The maximum number of horses observed on each type of trailer was Double Deck 45, single deck semis 25 and there were three gooseneck loads with 22 horses.

Table 1. Loads Arriving at the Slaughter Plant Vehicle Types

Type of Trailer

Number of Horses

Percent of Horses

Number of Loads

Percent of Loads

Double Deck

427

42%

15

24%

Straight Trailer

89

9%

4

6%

Gooseneck

492

49%

44

70%

Total

1008 horses

 

63 loads

 

 

Table 2. Origin of Loads Arriving at Slaughter Plant by State and Vehicle Type - Total of 1008 horses

Vehicle Type

Number of Loads

Number out of State

Percent out of State

Double Decks

15

15

100%

Straight Trailers

4

2

50%

Goosenecks

31*

13

42%

* Goosenecks of verified origin.

  • Double Decks originated from Canada, Pennsylvania, Lousiana, South Dakota, Michigan, California, Ohio, New Mexico, and Kansas.
  • Straight Trailers originated from Texas Kentucky, and Missouri.
  • Goosenecks originated from Texas Kentucky, Missouri., and Georgia.

At the New Holland Sale, 69% of the arriving vehicles were goosenecks. (Table A). The rest of the horses arrived in a straight semi-trailer, two and four horse trailers and an old show van. Horses left the sale in either straight semi trailers or goosenecks with the exception of one load (Table B). This vehicle was a pick-up with a cattle box mounted on it. A draft horse was loaded into this vehicle. The ceiling height of this vehicle was too low for such a large horse. All other vehicles were in good condition. The only transport injuries in horses being unloaded were minor abrasions of the type that can occur under the best of circumstances. Horses sold at the New Holland sale were handled very well. See the New Holland Appendix for the complete New Holland report.

Fifteen horses (1.5%) that arrived at the slaughter plants were not fit for travel (Table 3). Seventy-eight horses (7.7%) of the 1008 horses had severe welfare problems. Ninety-two percent were in good condition. Figure 4 shows a typical pen of slaughter horses. Fighting was a major cause of injuries which occurred during marketing and transport (Figure 6). Tables 4 and 5 show the incidence of severe welfare problems, minor abrasions and injuries were not included. Three percent (30 head) of the arriving horses were skinny and emaciated and 1% (12 hd.) were foundered or had obvious leg injuries. The body condition score of these animals was 1 or 2 (Henneke et all 983). The greatest welfare problems observed in this survey were caused by either neglect or abuse at the point of origin (Table 4 chi square >.00l). Six percent of the horses surveyed had serious welfare problems that occurred at the point of origin and 1.8% had severe welfare problems caused by injuries which occurred during marketing or transport. Figures 7, 8, 9, 10 show examples.

Table 3. Horses not Fit for Travel to Slaughter Plant

Total 1008 Horses Observed

# of Horses

 

Reason

 

4

Broken legs at origin

5

Emaciated & weak arrived non-ambulatory

1

Dead on arrival

2

Died shortly after arrival

1

emaciated, ambulatory

1

Foundered pony could barely walk

1

Severe limp appeared to be in great pain

Total 15 Horses

1.5% Not fit for Transport

  • No horses in good body condition arrived non-ambulatory

Table 4. Severe Welfare Problems on all Vehicles
Minor Abrasions and Old Completely Healed Injuries Not Included

Number Horses

Good Condition

Percent Good Condition

Number Origin Problem

Percent Origin Problem

Number Transport or Market Injury

Percent Transport or Market Injury

1008

930

92%

60

6%

18*

1.8%

* The following welfare problems were included in the transport and market category:

1.      Kicks and bites on extensive parts of the body.

2.      Severe facial lacerations

3.      Severe abrasions and scrapes on the back, withers, and croup.

4.      Large deep flesh cuts.

5.      Eye injuries.

  • Severe welfare problems caused by the owner were significantly greater than welfare problems caused by transport. Chi Square 12.19 > .001.

Table 5. Severe Welfare Problems on 1008 Horses
Minor Abrasions, old completely healed injuries, or slight unsoundness are not included

 

Number

Percentage

Skinny and emaciated

30

3%

Foot problems - foundered or bent over foot or bowed tendons

12

1%

Deformities

2

.4%

Broken leg at origin

4

.3%

Down on vehicle due to weak condition

4

.3%

Large deep cuts

6

.5%

Eye injuries

2

.4%

Dead on arrival or died shortly after unloading

4

.3%

Extensive infections

3

.2%

Behavior problem

1

.09%

Kick and bite marks over extensive parts of the body (live evaluation)

4

.3%

Severe facial lacerations

3

.2%

Back scrapes during transport (severe only)

3

.2%

Total severe welfare problems

78 hd.

7.7%

Table 6 shows the percentage of owner problems compared to all transport and market injuries no matter how slight compared to trailer type. This ratio is similar for the three types of trailers. Abrasions, lacerations or cuts on the face, withers, back croup or tailhead are the only injuries that can be directly attributed to trailer type. Table 7 shows the incidence of fresh head injuries on a per horse basis for each type of trailer. It is likely that these injuries occurred during transport. Double decks had more severe lacerations on the face but there was not enough data to do statistics. (Figures 11, 12) Figures 13 and 14 show minor abrasions. The one double deck trailer that was loaded with 45 horses had one horse with a severe laceration on the face and two with abrasions and damage on the top line. (Figure 12, 15). This was the worst load for "trailer" damage and this load was the largest double deck load observed. Table 8 lists only severe injuries which occurred during transport and marketing on 500 horses. Three horses on double-decks and three horses on goosenecks arrived with deep cuts through the hide (Table 8) Figures 17, 18 show examples of cuts rated a severe welfare problem. Two horses on a double deck had severely scraped backs and topline. None of the horses on a gooseneck or straight trailer were observed with wither, back or croup injuries which were fresh enough to be attributed to the vehicle the horses arrived on. Table 9 shows the incidence of rubbing injuries and abrasions on the withers, back and croup. Figures 15, 16 show severe and minor damage. There was no difference between double decks and other vehicles. This may be attributed to the fact that dealers and traders may be transporting horses that have been on many vehicles. Head injuries could be easily assessed for freshness, but top line injuries could not be aged to determine if they occurred on the arrival vehicle or some other vehicle the horse had been transported on.

Table 6. Effect of Trailer Type on Transport and Market Injuries both Major and Slight Compared to Owner-Origin Problems

Type Trailer

Number Horses

Number Owner Problem

Percent Owner Problem

Number Market Transport Damage

Percent Market Transport Damage

Double Decks

262

32

12%

29

11%

Straight Trailer

48

3

13%

3

12%

Gooseneck

190

20

10.52%

25

13%

Total

500

55

11%

57

11%

  • Transport and market damage includes, but is not limited to abrasions on withers, back and croup scrapes, lacerations and abrasions on the head, fresh cuts, bite marks, and eye injuries.
  • Owner problems include, but are not limited to emaciated, severe founder, broken legs, bowed tendons, extensive infections, foot bent over, deformities, and tumors all over the body.

Table 7. Injuries Likely to be Caused by Transport:
Incidence of Injuries to the Head that are Fresh on a Per Horse Basis

 

Number Lacerated

Percent Lacerated

Number Minor Abrasions

Percent Minor Abrasions

Total Number

Double Deck

3

1%

6

2%

262

Gooseneck

0

0

4

2%

190

Straight Semi Trailer

0

0

0

0

48

 

Table 8. List of Serious Transport and Marketing Injuries on all body parts. Minor Abrasions not included.
On 500 horses arriving at slaughter plants.

 

Total Number

Gooseneck

Straight Trailer

Double Deck

Large deep cuts through the hide

6

3

0

3

Severe face lacerations

3

0

0

3

Numerous bite marks over large area of body

4

1

1

2

Severe scraped backs and withers

2

0

0

2

List of severe deep cuts and lacerations:

         1 Cut vulva

         1 Deep cut in shoulder with hanging skin flap

         1 Deep cut in neck with hanging skin flap

         1 Cut on knee

         1 Lacerated hindquarter over extensive area

         1 Eye knocked out

Table 9. Injuries Likely to be Caused by Transport:
Incidence of Rubbing Injuries on a Per Horse Basis to the Back, Withers, or Trailhead. Injury counted if showed any redness.

 

Number of Horses

Percent Injured

Total Number

Double Deck

6

2%

262

Gooseneck

4

2%

190

Straight Semi Trailer

2

4%

48

  • There was no way to determine if the Rubbing Injuries that occurred in any of these vehicles occurred on the arrival vehicle or in a vehicle the horse had been on prior to boarding the arrival vehicle.
  • A double deck load containing Belgian draft horses which had many injuries on their backs and withers is not included on this table because they arrived after the detailed data was collected on the first 500 horses.

Fighting is a major cause of injuries. Four horses out of 1008 had numerous bite marks over a large area of their bodies. Figure 6 shows one of the worst cases of bite injuries. Observations of fighting wounds while walking through the holding pens or examining horses as they passed through the tagging chutes at the plants indicated that 30 to 48% had visible marks caused by bites. Damage due to kicking is often not visible on the horses' hide. Examination of carcasses revealed that 13% of the carcasses had bite and kick bruises (Table 10). Fifty-one percent of all carcass bruises were caused by bites or kicks. Figures 19, 20, 21 and 22 show bruises on carcasses due to kicks and bites.

Table 10. Percentage of Carcass Bruising Caused by Horses Fighting in Two Different Plants on 3 Different Days

Number Horses

Total Bruised Carcasses

Percent Bruised Carcasses

Number of Bite & Kick Bruise Carcasses

Percentage of Bite & Kick Bruise Carcasses

Percentage of the Bruised Carcasses Caused by Fighting

508

130

25%

67

13%

51%

Horses which travel direct to slaughter had fewer external injuries and fewer carcass bruises than horses transported to several auctions. Interviews with dealers indicated that some dealers will go to several auctions to fill up their trailers. Horses bought at the first auction have to be loaded and unloaded several times for feed and water. Two double decks used by known dealers who buy horses at more than one auction were compared to six direct double deck loads. External injuries were visible on 7.5% of the horses on the multiple stop load and 1.6% on the direct loads (Table 11). Direct loads had significantly fewer bruises chi square >.00l. Bruises were also higher on a trailer load which made multiple stops at several auctions. Bruises on this load were compared to all the other horses that were slaughtered the same day. (Table 12). Examination of carcasses is a useful method for assessing injuries caused by fighting. However, injuries to the head which occur during transport can be more easily assessed by examining the horse ante-mortem.

Table 11. Number of horses with minor and major injuries on two trader double decks compared to 6 double deck loads which probably came direct. Owner damage not shown on this table. Transport and market damage only.

 

Total Number

All Injuries

Percent

Severe Injuries Only

Percent

2 Trader Double Decks

79

12

15%

6

7.5%

6 Double Decks that came direct

183

17

9%

3

1.6%

  • Chi Square Severe Injuries > .001 X 2 = 53.88
  • List of Severe Injuries:

Trader Trucks -

1 Severe face laceration

2 Scraped backs

1 Cut knee

1 Deep shoulder cut

1 Numberous bites

Direct Trucks -

2 Face lacerations

1 Cut vulva

Table 12. Bruise Baseline Compared to a known Trader Load Which had Both Old and New Bruising.
Data from one day in one plant.

 

Total No.

No. Bruised

Percentage Bruised

Number on trader load

45

13

28%

All other horses

175

24

14%

Plant baseline both groups combined

220

37

17%

DISCUSSION

Approximately 73% of the severe welfare problems observed at the slaughter plants did not occur during transport or marketing (Tables 4, 5 and 6). Some examples of severe welfare problems which were caused by the owner were severely foundered feet, emaciated, skinny, weak horses, animals which had became non-ambulatory and injuries to the legs such as bowed tendons. Four horses were loaded with broken legs. One of these horses was a bucking bronc that had broken its leg during a rodeo. It died shortly after arrival at a plant. Out of 1008 horses observed at the slaughter plants, 7.7% had severe welfare problems. Some of the worst animal welfare cases were brought in by two "junk" dealers. Two "junk" loads contained two horses which were loaded with broken legs, one dead on arrival and three non-ambulatory "downer" horses which were in very poor body condition.

The most common injuries which occurred during actual transport were abrasions and lacerations on the head and injuries along the back bone. Many horses had bite marks due to fighting and six head (.5%) had deep cuts. These injuries most likely occurred during the transport and marketing process. The full extent of the injuries caused by fighting were not apparent until the carcasses were examined for bruises. Damage from biting and kicking can often be seen on the carcass even though the horse's hide appears undamaged.

Behavior problems are a likely explanation for many horses being sold for slaughter. At the New Holland sale, 7% of the horses exhibited misbehavior in the sale ring such as bucking or rearing when they were ridden into the ring. This misbehavior is a likely reason why the horse was being sold. Each horse was observed as it was ridden or lead in the ring.

Welfare problems in slaughter horses are listed in order of priority: It is the authors' opinion that the top ranked problem causes the most suffering.

  1. Conditions caused by owner abuse or neglect.
  2. Injuries due to fighting when strange horses are mixed in the marketing and transport channels.
  3. Injuries directly attributed to the design of the trailer.

The most serious injuries and welfare problems are not caused by the type of trailer the horses are transported in. The number one problem that needs to be corrected in transport and marketing is injuries caused by horse fights. At the New Holland sale three horses were injured in a fight that occurred in a "dealer drop off pen". One horse received a severe eye injury. That horse and several others had been purchased at another sale and they were unloaded at New Holland for feed and water while the dealer purchased more horses. Injuries due to fighting and injuries in general appeared to be worse in loads where strange horses were constantly mixed as new horses were purchased to fill up the load.

Head injuries and back abrasions were elevated in double decks, but very severe injuries such as a deep shoulder cuts are probably not caused by trailer design. Double deck trailers should never be used for very tall horses. A load containing Belgian draft horses had many animals with abrasions on their backs. This load was not tabulated on the tables because it arrived after detailed data was collected on the first 500 horses. One of the reasons why the data show a trend for elevated double deck injuries is due to the fact that the double deck vehicles appear to be more likely to be used by traders and dealers who take horses from one sale to the injuries to the head which occur during transport can be more easily assessed by examining the horse ante-mortem.

DISCUSSION

Approximately 73% of the severe welfare problems observed at the slaughter plants did not occur during transport or marketing (Tables 4, 5 and 6). Some examples of severe welfare problems which were caused by the owner were severely foundered feet, emaciated, skinny, weak horses, animals which had became non-ambulatory and injuries to the legs such as bowed tendons. Four horses were loaded with broken legs. One of these horses was a bucking bronc that had broken its leg during a rodeo. It died shortly after arrival at a plant. Out of 1008 horses observed at the slaughter plants, 7.7% had severe welfare problems. Some of the worst animal welfare cases were brought in by two "junk" dealers. Two 'junk" loads contained two horses which were loaded with broken legs, one dead on arrival and three non-ambulatory "downer" horses which were in very poor body condition.

The most common injuries which occurred during actual transport were abrasions and lacerations on the head and injuries along the back bone. Many horses had bite marks due to fighting and six head (.5%) had deep cuts. These injuries most likely occurred during the transport and marketing process. The full extent of the injuries caused by fighting were not apparent until the carcasses were examined for bruises. Damage from biting and kicking can often be seen on the carcass even though the horse's hide appears undamaged.

Behavior problems are a likely explanation for many horses being sold for slaughter. At the New Holland sale, 7% of the horses exhibited misbehavior in the sale ring such as bucking or rearing when they were ridden into the ring. This misbehavior is a likely reason why the horse was being sold. Each horse was observed as it was ridden or lead in the ring.

Welfare problems in slaughter horses are listed in order of priority: It is the authors' opinion that the top ranked problem causes the most suffering.

  1. Conditions caused by owner abuse or neglect.
  2. Injuries due to fighting when strange horses are mixed in the marketing and transport channels.
  3. Injuries directly attributed to the design of the trailer.

The most serious injuries and welfare problems are not caused by the type of trailer the horses are transported in. The number one problem that needs to be corrected in transport and marketing is injuries caused by horse fights. At the New Holland sale three horses were injured in a fight that occurred in a "dealer drop off pen". One horse received a severe eye injury. That horse and several others had been purchased at another sale and they were unloaded at New Holland for feed and water while the dealer purchased more horses. Injuries due to fighting and injuries in general appeared to be worse in loads where strange horses were constantly mixed as new horses were purchased to fill up the load.

Head injuries and back abrasions were elevated in double decks, but very severe injuries such as a deep shoulder cuts are probably not caused by trailer design. Double deck trailers should never be used for very tall horses. A load containing Belgian draft horses had many animals with abrasions on their backs. This load was not tabulated on the tables because it arrived after detailed data was collected on the first 500 horses. One of the reasons why the data show a trend for elevated double deck injuries is due to the fact that the double deck vehicles appear to be more likely to be used by traders and dealers who take horses from one sale to the next. Loads which came from known traders or 'junk dealers" had a higher percentage of injuries and serious welfare problems. Our observations indicate that the particular owner of a trailer may have a greater effect on injuries than trailer design. The responsible dealers and transporters who closely supervise loading, supervise driver behavior and separate aggressive horses will have a lower incidence of injuries. Double decks also transported horses for much longer distances than goosenecks.

Another factor is the size of the load. A double deck load that contained 45 horses had three animals with facial and croup damage which were rated a serious welfare problem. Even though this trailer had an extended belly (Figure 4) there were more injuries on this trailer than a regular cattle double-deck which provided less headroom. The high amount of injuries on this trailer are likely due to the high load density and continual mixing of strange horses. This load was brought in by a dealer who owned an auction. Another double-deck load of 44 feedlot colts had no transport or market damage. The animals were small enough not to contact the ceiling. These colts had no marks on them from fighting because they had been raised together. However, many had foundered due to high feedlot grain rations. Horses can also be injured if a compartment is underloaded. Horses with too much space may lie down and get stepped on by other horses.

The biggest problem with double-deck trailers is loading and unloading. (Figure 23) Horses are sometimes reluctant to walk down the internal ramps in the trailer. On one load the driver had to poke the horses on the top deck with a stick to induce them to go down the internal ramp in the trailer. Sometimes a horse jumped and fell on the ramp. Several double decks that were unloaded at night unloaded easily because the horses were attracted by the light in the barn. A load containing small horses also unloaded easily during the daytime.

Another disadvantage of double decks is that horses cannot be lead onto the trailer with a lead rope and halter. At New Holland one dealer led horses onto his straight semi trailer and tied them with a halter and lead rope to prevent fighting. Tying up horses with a lead rope and halter is one way to reduce fighting injuries, but it is not practical for slaughter horses, some of which are not halter broke. Leading a horse into a double deck is not practical because it is too dangerous to lead horses up and down the internal ramps. The main welfare concern with double decks is loading and unloading and injuries on the face and top line of tall horses.

Trailer Research

Research conducted by Dr. Stull at the University of California indicated that there were more injuries on a double deck compared to a straight trailer (Stull, 1998). Physiological measurements indicated that the horses were more stressed on the straight trailer. This was probably due to heat stress. These physiological results are probably due to the design of the trailers used in this particular study. The double deck may have had better ventilation. Figures 24 and 25 shows the straight trailer used in this study. The single deck trailer could be easily modified to improve air movement in the vehicle. The trailer used in this study had a large faring which blocked air flow and solid sides partway up the sides of the trailer. It also lacked nose vents. Transporters will often install plywood in a semi trailer to prevent horses from kicking out the sides. This will reduce ventilation. Ventilation can be improved by sawing holes in the plywood with a hole saw. One enterprising trucker observed during the survey had done this to improve ventilation.

Some people do not approve of the horse slaughter industry and they would like to shut it down. This would probably be very detrimental to horse welfare. The fates of many horses would be worse if the slaughter plants were shut down because more horses would probably go to Mexico where their welfare is likely to be much worse. Humane slaughter procedures are not enforced in Mexico. The incidence of horse neglect may increase because in many parts of the country owners would have to pay to have a euthanized horse taken to a rendering plant. Rendering plants are declining in numbers and the fee to pickup a horse carcass can vary from free to several hundred dollars. This depends on where the rendering plant is located. Disposal of horse carcasses on the farm or on one's own property is often not an option. In some states it is illegal to bury a dead horse on your property. In states where burial is legal there are still problems with frozen ground in the winter time which makes burial impossible. Other alternatives to slaughter such as cremation would be expensive. People who can afford cremation can chose it, but people who can not afford it are more likely to sell their horse at an auction or to a horse dealer. If the horse is ridable the dealer would probably sell it for riding but, if it is not ridable then it is likely to be sold for slaughter. If horses have to be shipped to either Canada or Mexico transport times will increase even further.

If the bill forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter is passed in California, the cases of horse neglect will probably increase. This is most likely to occur in low income areas. Some people who can not afford to euthanize a horse may let it die from neglect. This is a slow death and slaughter would be preferable. Interviews with persons involved with the horse industry indicate that horse neglect is already a serious welfare problem in low income areas in California. Horse owners need to be educated that they are responsible for the welfare of their horses.

A load was observed arriving at a slaughter plant which contained many Standard-bred carriage horses and Belgian draft horses that were not fit enough to be sold at New Holland. The New Holland sale will not accept horses that are severely lame or in very poor condition. Twenty-six of the horses were in very poor body condition. This was one of the "underground" loads, which bypassed the New Holland sale. Most of the carriage horses and Belgians on this load originated from Pennsylvania.

The authors are very concerned about the fate of many severely lame or emaciated horses which go into market channels outside of the auctions. The New Holland sale has banned horses with severe welfare problems from their sale. However, horses from the area near the New Holland sale which were severely lame or emaciated arrived at a slaughter plant. They were brought in by a dealer who buys horses that are not sold at an auction. It is the horse owner's responsibility to euthanize a horse which is severely debilitated and not fit to travel. The "junk horse dealers" would not exist if an old or ailing horse was either euthanized or sold for slaughter before its condition deteriorated.

Fight Injuries

Another major conclusion of the survey is that injuries from horse fights must be reduced. Fighting is the most common cause of severe injuries which occur during transporting and marketing. Fighting was the main cause of bruising on horse carcasses (Table 10). Aggressive horses must be removed and segregated. Segregating stallions helps but does not solve the entire aggressive horse problem. Aggressive geldings and mares must be separated and handled in the same manner as stallions. When strange horses are first mixed they must be observed so that aggressive horses can be removed. The worst horse fights often occur shortly after mixing. Confinement in small pens makes it impossible for the subordinate horse to escape from its attacker. Four horses in the survey had numerous bites over extensive areas of their bodies. They were rated a serious welfare problem. The worst fight injuries will occur when a subordinate horse is unable to escape from its attacker. This is most likely to occur in a small pen or while a trailer is parked.

Recommendations

Educate horse owners that they are responsible for the welfare of their horse. If they do not want it to go to the slaughter they should not sell a lame or old horse at an auction or to a dealer. Problems with horses that are emaciated or otherwise not fit for transport must be stopped at the source. New Federal regulations on the transport of horses to slaughter will be most effective if they contain regulations which forbid transport of severely debilitated horses. To prevent them from entering underground 'junk" marketing channels the regulations should contain provisions for inspecting loads of horses on the highways and at truck weigh stations.

Enforcement can also be done at USDA inspected horse slaughter facilities. Even though horse slaughter plants are an emotional subject for some horse owners, they are one place where Federal authorities can easily intervene. Horse welfare would be much worse if the U.S. plants shut down and slaughter horses went either to Mexico or into an underground market. Underground markets are impossible to regulate. Possible end points for "underground" horse meat would be dog food, zoo animal food or uninspected meat in ethnic communities. Uninspected horse meat used for human consumption could have severe consequences for public health.

Having sufficient horse slaughter facilities with USDA inspection will prevent the formation of an unsavory underground market. Welfare problems will increase if any of the remaining plants are closed. Transport distances are already very long. If transport length restrictions are imposed this will drive many horses into an underground market that can not be regulated.

Signs of underground activity were observed during the survey. At New Holland, one arriving trailer left without unloading when its driver saw the first author at the unloading dock. At one of the slaughter plants, horse numbers greatly decreased during the last day of observations. Word was out among the dealers that they were being "watched" for bad horses. The load which contained the Belgians and carriage horses was a load that the dealers had collected that was not fit for sale at the New Holland auction. As our days of observation increased the incidence of carcass damage caused by rough truck drivers with sticks may have decreased. People knew they were being watched.

The condition of arriving horses at a USDA inspected facility can be monitored. Horse slaughter plants have an important role in the enforcement of any new horse transport regulations because they are Federally inspected facilities. At the present time Federal authorities only have oversight at slaughter facilities and auctions. Activities in other locations are unmonitored. Horses that arrive at a USDA inspected slaughter plant in a severely debilitated condition or have severe transport and marketing injuries can be observed. Dealers and owners could be fined for cruelty to animals. Many severe injuries show up as bruises on the slaughter floor. A horse that looks fine on the outside can have many severe kick bruises. Damage from fighting is very visible on the carcasses. Monitoring of bruising is a very effective method for determining which trucks and which dealers have extensive fighting injuries on their horses. People who habitually bring horses in that have been bruised could also be fined for cruelty to animals. Horse slaughter plants also need to develop and implement procedures for euthanizing horses that may be suffering that arrive when the plant is not open on nights and weekends.

Many horse owners are concerned that their favorite riding horse maybe stolen and sold for slaughter. Another recommendation is to station a USDA/APHIS Federal identity and welfare person at each plant. The meat inspection staff who work for USDA/FSIS are too busy to take on these responsibilities. If a horse is stolen or missing a horse owner could call a toll free number and report the theft. Horse owners could also report thefts on a USDA web page which has an easy to remember address like www.stolenhorse.gov. Horse associations and riding clubs should encourage their members to have clear photographs of facial markings and other distinctive features of their horse which could be used for positive identification. When microchipping becomes available for horse identification it could also be used.

If the U.S. horse slaughter plants are closed it will become impossible to regulate horse slaughter. Horses will cross over into Mexico and disappear. It is important for horse welfare that the remaining four slaughter plants remain open, but the condition of horses arriving at the plants must be improved.

Outline of Recommendations to the USDA:

  1. Educate horse owners that they are responsible for the welfare of their horses. If they object to horse slaughter they should not sell a lame or debilitated horse at either an auction or to a dealer unless they are certain where it will end up.
  2. Since neglect or abuse of the horses at the point of origin was the cause of the greatest number of severe welfare problems; show associations, riding clubs, breed associations and racing associations should all have horse care guidelines to help prevent problems such as founder and bowed tendons. Horse associations should include statements in their guidelines that specify allowing horses to become emaciated or severely debilitated is not acceptable. Racing associations should be proactive and stop the practice of racing horses before their leg bones are mature. Since "backyard" horses are probably a large segment of the neglected horses the USDA/APHIS and organized horse associations should work with local animal shelters and humane societies who care for stray dogs and cats to address cases of horse neglect.
  3. Station USDA/APHIS inspectors at the horse slaughter plants to find stolen horses and monitor the condition of arriving horses.
  4. Dealers, owners and drivers who transport horses to a horse slaughter plant that are not fit for travel should receive severe penalties. A USDA/APHIS inspector at the slaughter plant could also fine drivers, dealers and owners who bring in horses with severe injuries caused by either low ceilings or fighting.
  5. When strange horses are mixed they should be carefully observed. Aggressive horses must be separated and placed in a separate pen. Geldings and mares that continually attack other horses must be removed and handled in the same manner as stallions. Research methods to reduce injuries caused by horse fights, that are practical and easy to implement.
  6. Work with horse associations and riding clubs to encourage horse owners to document their horse's identity so it can be traced if stolen.
  7. Implement procedures at each horse slaughter plant so that a severely injured or debilitated horse that arrives when the plant is closed can be euthanized immediately.
  8. Work with various state agencies such as the agencies who weigh trucks to fine drivers transporting horses in vehicles where a horse's back, withers or croup has received abrasions from rubbing on the ceiling of a compartment. Trailers could also be checked for overloading.
  9. To prevent the formation of more and more underground markets the four operating horse plants must be encouraged to remain open. Closure of these plants will result in horses being transported to Mexico where there is little or no enforcement of animal welfare standards.
  10. Double-deck "pot" semi-trailers must not be used to transport very tall horses such as large draft breeds or Thoroughbreds, more than 16 hands tall.
  11. Educate horse owners about using gentle training methods to help prevent behavior problems which cause a horse to be sold for slaughter.

References

Boissy A. 1998. Fear and fearfulness in determining behavior. In: T. Grandin (Editor), Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals. Academic Press. San Diego, CA pp.67-112.

Grandin, T. 1997. Assessment of stress during handling and transport. J. Anim. Sci. 75:249-257.

Grandin, T. and Deesing, M.J. 1998. Behavioral genetics and Animal Science. In: T. Grandin (Editor), Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals. Academic Press. San Diego, CA. 1-30.

Henneke, D.R., Potter, G.D., Kreider, J.L. and Yeates, B.F. 1983. Relationship between body condition score, physical measurement and body fat percentage in mares. Equine Veterinarian. 15:371-372.

Rogen, M.T. and LeDoux, J.E. 1996. Emotion: systems cells and synaptic plasticity cell (Cambridge, MA) 83:369-475.

Stull, C.L. 1998. Health and welfare parameters of horses commercially transported to slaughter. J. Anim. Sci. 76:88 (Supl 1) (Abstract).


Appendix Detailed New Holland Sale Report

Visit to New Holland July 27, 1998
by: Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Science
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523

Horses arriving at the sale had very little damage. All horses sold at the auction were individually tied up with a halter and lead rope in long rows in a barn. They were kept tied at all times. They were either led through the sale ring with a halter or ridden. No horses were chased through the ring like cattle. All horses that were sold in the sale ring could walk easily and had good mobility. Handling of horses that were in the auction was excellent. 168 horses, ponies, mules and donkeys were sold through the sale ring.

Most horses arrived at the sale on either goosenecks, or horse trailers. (Tables A and B) Over 90% arrived on goosenecks. None of the goosenecks had stalls and all horses were tied in the trailer with a lead rope and halter. When I arrived at 6:00AM, 48 horses had already arrived the night before and only one had a scratched face.

Fresh Abrasions on Arriving horses:

1 Scratched face

2 Abrasions from pulling back on the halter

1 Surface scrape on the rear with no bleeding

2 Facial abrasions

1 Hip abrasions

Only seven horses had abrasions which probably occurred during transport. Ninety six percent of the horses had no fresh abrasions that could have occurred during transport.

The abrasions observed on the horses arriving at the sale were the type of small abrasions which often occur when a horse is transported under the best of conditions. All of the handling at the unloading chutes was good. All injuries observed during unloading were very minor compared to injuries observed at the slaughter plants immediately after arrival. No photos were allowed in the auction.

Sale Ring Observations

Every horse which was sold in the sale ring was observed. The horses in the sale ranged from ponies and riding horses which sold for over a $1000 to slaughter horses in poor condition which sold for under $200. The condition of each animal was judged as it went through the ring. All horses sold were fit enough for travel.

New Holland Animal Welfare Problem Animals

 

Number Horses

Percent of 168 Animals Sold

Skinny

6

3.5%

Behavior Problems

12

7.0%

Physically Abused

2

1.1%

Total

20

11.6%

Scoring System

A horse was listed as "skinny" if it had a body condition score "2" (Henneke et al 1983). A score of 1 is emaciated. These horses would be considered a welfare problem. A behavior problem was recorded if a horse reared, bucked or had an indication of a behavior problem announced by the auctioneer. There was a tendency for nervous horses to have more surface scrapes and many behavior problem horses had old healed scrapes.

There was a total of 21 horses (12.5%) which had welfare problems which were caused by the owner or by previous bad experiences with handling and training. Skinny Body Condition of 2:

2 Draft horses

3 Carriage horses

1 Backyard type horse

Behavior Problems - all Mature Riding Horses unless noted:

4 Reared in ring with a rider

2 Bucked in ring with a rider

1 "Kicking problem" - Announced by auctioneer

2 "Not for beginners" - Announced by auctioneer

1 Draft horse that shied at everything

1 Beautiful Arab - lead into ring - Announced "unridable"

1 High headed and snorting

It is likely that some of the behavior problems observed in the auction ring were caused by abusive training methods which cause the horse to have fear memories of its bad experiences. Even after extensive retraining the fear memories can still resurface and cause misbehavior. The emphasis has to be on using gentle training methods to prevent the formation of fear memories. For more information (Grandin 1997, LeDoux 1997, Boissey 1998 and Grandin and Deesing 1998).

Physically Abused Horses - No Severely lame horses in sale:

2 Draft horses - with old healed severe injuries from horse collars. The first horse had a 4" deep by 6" wide depression in its upper neck area caused by a horse collar. There were extensive areas where the hair had grown back in white which is a sign of injury.

The second draft horse had white hair where the collar had been and a swelling approximately 6" long by 3" high where the collar would have rubbed.

None of the horses loaded out from the sale had any significant injuries. The were all loaded out without any incident more serious than bumping a truck door. Horses that I did not observe loading were either walked out of the sale barn or spent the night at the barn. The two large dealer trucks which were scheduled were observed. All other horses were waiting to be picked up by local people.

The main place where horses got injured at New Holland was in the "drop off' pens where dealers coming to the sale unload horses bought at a previous sale for feed and water. Some of these horses had come in from other states. Loose horses in the "drop off' pens fought during the sale. Horses put in the "drop off' pens were not tied up with a halter and lead rope. After the sale one pen contained three freshly injured horses. One horse had severe injuries and two had moderate injuries. Fighting was the most likely cause of the injuries.

Horse 1. Severe fresh eye injury with a flap of cornea hanging down.

Horse 2. Bleeding lacerated forehead probably caused by hitting hay feeder during a fight.

Horse 3. Numerous fresh bite marks.

None of these horses was sold in the sale ring. The injuries in the "drop off' pen were similar to injuries observed at the slaughter plants. Dealers need to have "drop off' pens otherwise horses bought at previous sales would stay on a truck for days as the dealer traveled from sale to sale.

There are three methods for reducing injuries in "drop off' pens:

  1. Tie horses to the fence with a halter and lead rope
  2. Design drop off pens so that horses that traveled together can be penned together. This would be easier than tying them all up. One dealer informed the owner that keeping horses in the same groups the traveled in reduced fighting.
  3. Remove very aggressive and very submissive horses from the pen

Horses are most likely to fight when they are first mixed. They must be observed and very aggressive horses that are biting and kicking other horses must be removed. Removing stallions, is important, but stallions are not the source of all aggression problems. The emphasis has to be on removing aggressive horses regardless of gender. These aggressive animals need to be separated. Very submissive horses that are often targets of attack also need to be removed.

Observations at one slaughter plant indicated that the horses in the vicinity of New Holland that have very serious welfare problems are not being sold at the New Holland Sale. A truck load of draft horses and standard bred carriage horses of the type that are commonly used in the New Holland area arrived at the plant. Twenty six of these horses were skinny and in much poorer body condition than the carriage horses and draft horses which were observed in the New Holland sale ring. The load containing these horses originated outside the state of Pennsylvania. One can conclude that horses which are not fit enough to be sold at New Holland are entering on underground market. The diversion of horses with serious welfare problems into an underground market is a grave concern. The New Holland sale does not accept horses which are severely lame or in very poor body condition.

Table A. New Holland Arrival Vehicles Unloading Observed

Number

Vehicle Type

Number Horses

Minor Injuries

Percent

1

40 ft. straight trailer

7 horses from auction in New Jersey

1 swelling over eye 2-3 days old

14%

16

Goosenecks

44

5 very minor abrasions

11%

4

2 horse trailers

6

1 minor abrasion

?

1

4 horse trailer

started to drive in, saw us, and drove away

?

?

1

old show van

1

0

0

 

horses walked in

14

0

0

 

Table B. New Holland Loading Out Vehicles Observed

Number

Vehicle Type

Number Horses

Injuries Loading

2

40 ft. straight trailers
1st trailer 7 hd. tied, 6 loose
2nd trailer 29 loose and stallion held
in separate compartment

42

1 banged hip on door
no visible damage

10

Goosenecks

37

0

1

pickup box for cattle low cicling (local)

2

Draft horse rubbed on door while entering
no visible damage

  • Walked to parking area: 10 estimated


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