Tag Archives: animal welfare

Horse slaughter

I like to take difficult issues head on and try to have a common sense point of view from what I feel is factual.

First a little history – I was raised with horse slaughter.  My grandfather, Leonard Frank, was a killer horse buyer.  He would buy horses in the Helena, Montana area, and when he had a truck load would take them to a horse buyer.  Cripples, outlaws, or old horses were disposed of in this way.  We had a lead smelter in the area, and if horses were kept to close they would get leaded and were not able to be used. I remember many real good horses that were ruined because of this.

When I was old enough, I would try to fix the outlaws and horses with bad habits.  I really knew nothing about training horses, but could ride pretty good so I figured out if I could get ’em moving and not get thrown off I could fix ’em.

I remember only a few people that would not sell their horse for slaughter, but put them down and bury them on their place.  My grandfather and many other people could not understand this.

Many people still thought of horses as work animals and not many people had pleasure horses. Farmers and ranchers used the horse for work and some also went to rodeos. Gymkhana or omaksees were popular and 4-H shows were popular at the time,  but these were small with mostly ranch folks participating.  We did not see all the horse activity we see today.  Team roping, horse shows, and barrel racings were all not popular until much later.

The people that owned horses in the time I am talking about, the late 1960’s to the middle 1980’s, cared about the horses they owned, but were thought of as farm animals, not companion animals.  With farm animals, it was the way it was done to slaughter animals to dispose of them.

This does not mean they did not care about the animal.  I saw many grown men cry as they loaded an old horse on the truck, and I know they were truly sad at seeing an old companion go. Some showed no compassion at all, but most really cared about the horse they were sending to slaughter.

It is important to understand that at this time, many farmers and ranchers would put animals down with gunshot if they were not marketable.  Old or nuisance dogs, cats, or varmints were shot on the farm.  Many people today do not understand this.  We have really changed the way our emotions control our thoughts with animals.  I do not think people liked animals any less in these times, but understood the way nature worked a little better and thought of animals as a commodity with life, rather than a companion.

When you are around lots of animals, you are around lots of death.  You learn to deal with it. I have had so many animals that I have seen die.  This is tough but I have learned to deal with it.  I have not had near as many people close to me die, but the animals have helped me learn how to deal with it.

This is the problem that has come up with horse slaughter.  We have some that feel a horse is a commodity with a life, and some that think a horse is a companion animal.

Just because a person thinks of the horse as a commodity with a life does not mean he does not treat the horse to the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view), and just because a person thinks of the horse as a companion animal does not mean she gives the horse the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view) either.

This is a very important point for all to consider. Is the way we are caring for or handling animals really improving the quality of life? Or are we just putting human thoughts on the animal that are really not improving the animals quality of life at all, but maybe lessening it?

I have seen a huge shift in people’s opinions of how an animal should be treated in the last forty years.  People have always cared about animals, but now many people care about them so much we are running into conflicts, and laws and traditions are changing.  The horse has gone from being a beast of burden to a companion animal in a large part of the population.

In some cultures they eat dogs and cats.  They would not understand our feelings for our dogs.  Would you want to send Fido to the Philippines instead of putting them down humanely and burying them in the backyard?

If you have only known a horse as a companion animal you would feel the same way.  The people that are against horse slaughter feel the same about horses as we do about dogs.

My grandfather felt some people were cruel in the way they kept horses.  He felt horses in stalls with no exercise, horses kept alone, horses turned out with halters on, and horses without lots of feed and water were very bad.  One of his favorite things to say about horses was “fat” is always the best color on a horse.  He liked horses and took the very best care of them, yet purchased them for slaughter.

At this point I am against horse slaughter for my own horses. The reason is because of animal handling.  Horses are much more sensitive to pressure than other animals.  This includes physical and mental.  A cow can get tangled up in a barb wire fence, kick fight and pull for five minutes and it can come thru without a scratch.  A horse would either never recover or take a very long time and may be crippled for the rest of its life (and need to go to slaughter?).  A colt cannot survive being born in sub zero temps like a calf can either.

Most horses have a much higher need for self preservation than cattle.  We can teach them to trust us, but they can go to not trusting very quickly and fear takes over.  When a horse goes into panic mode it needs to run away from the danger.  If it can’t, it will protect itself with its hooves in a different way, by kicking or striking.  Horses also seem to have a more violent social order than cattle, so commingling strange horses together creates great stress if the animals can’t get out of each others’ area of comfort.

I had a horse I called “Count” that I put down and buried a few years ago.  He taught me way more than I taught him.  Count was the most sensitive and athletic horse I have ever had and maybe the best I ever rode.  He was real bad to panic and could buck a little.  He really kept me aware of everything going on around us.  He was real scared of a rope around his legs, and if he got into trouble he would leave the scene with you or without you.

I roped on him a bunch, and only got in a few panic situations.  He taught me how to keep a wreck from happening, and I learned from him how to get to roping on a very inexperienced horse safely. He got to trusting me not to get him in a jackpot, and I truly believe if I would of asked him to ride off a cliff he would have.

How could I send him into the hands of someone who does not know and maybe not even care about his fear of danger?  He was not a companion animal to me, he was my partner and I really miss my old partner.

If you have ever seen my daughter Mesa, you know she is very confident on a horse, and around all livestock.  She has not always been that way.  When she was learning to ride, she had a old horse to ride called Willard.  He was gentle and slow and she did great.  After Willard she moved on to a real good ranch horse I rode called Zoro.  He would get tired of her and buck her off. She may be the only kid to ever get bucked off in a round pen in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.

She lost confidence and was truly afraid on a horse.  We bought a great big paint horse named Painter.  He was the best kid’s horse I have ever been around.  I credit that horse for giving Mesa not only the confidence to work with horses and cattle, but to be able to do business at a very young age, in a very confidence requiring atmosphere. It was a sad day for all of us when Painter was put down and I always have a good memory reminder when I ride by his grave.

Rio was a pony that our son Rial got when he was two years old.  The first thing he did was double barrel kick Rial in the chest.  I had to lead him at first because he would go under trees and get rid of Rial.  Pony’s have a way about them to get what they want in life.  He was a tough go for a while, and I remember my wife Tammy getting on him and trying to straiten him out.  It still makes me laugh.  We sent him to Idaho to the Hogan outfit and the best young horseman I ever saw by the name of Spike Hogan made him into a great using pony that many a kid benefited from.

Our Son Rial has more compassion for animals than many people I have observed.  I think much of this comes from Rio.  He would be so frustrated with him, get mad at him, then work things out and they would be back to best buddies.  When we put him down due to an injury, and even though  Rial had not ridden him in several years, I felt so bad for him because of his grief and we both cried.  Rial now rides broncs and is riding horses in the fox hunting world, and I am real proud of his compassion for the animals he is in contact with, and I thank Rio for that.

We all have memories horses have given us.  We all have beliefs in how animals should be treated. A fact in agriculture we must face is that we will be regulated more and more on how we care for livestock.  If we don’t comply with the wishes of the majority or the most vocal,  they may be able to regulate our decisions we make with our own property.

This has happened with horse slaughter.  My grandfather would not even of imagined this could ever have happened.  There is a big shift happening in our part of the world as far as animals are concerned.  Animal agriculture will change the way we do business.  We will either change the way we raise animals to fit the customers needs, or we will change the customer to fit our needs.

The only way we will change the customer to fit our needs is to prove to them through honesty and integrity that we are treating our animals in the best way for the animal.  We must get the public to quit thinking of animals like humans.  Do this for the animals and the humans.  We must also get better at animal care and handling on a large scale, or it will go away.

What would it take for me to send my horse to slaughter?  If I could be assured that he would be hauled, penned, and kept in a way that his brain did not have to go to the survival mode.  If I knew he would have the time to work his way through a facility that did not cause him to panic.  I would need to be guaranteed he would not have a hot shot used on him or be scared by air or a noise-making aid.  If I knew the method used to put him down was immediate and did not induce panic, I would be okay with it.

I am not sure we can accomplish this on a large scale without a huge shift in the way we train people to handle livestock and the facility design we work them in.

To me the horse slaughter issue is the canary in the coal mine.  We had better do some changing in the livestock for food production model or it will change for us.  Take animal care and handling seriously.

As I look back and honestly look at the results of the banning of horse slaughter in the U.S., I see more positives than negatives.

When it was easy for people to get rid of any horse, people were making purchases of horses that had no business owning horses.  Horses were kept in places they should not be kept, to many kept on small acreage with no regard to the environment, people riding horses and getting hurt that should not be riding in the first place, and studs breeding mares of poor quality.  It has been a tough go for the over supply already in place, and the way it was immediately implemented with no way to scale back or prepare for the lack of places to market a horse was unfair, but that is the reality of it.  Now when we purchase or breed horses we know it may be tough to get rid of them and we think before we buy, and anytime you think before you do something it is a better outcome.

Horses are a wonderful animal.  They have done so much for mankind that I think we owe them the best quality of life and the best quality of death.  The way to do this is to make a commitment to the best animal handling and husbandry skills.  That is stockmanship and stewardship.

~ Curt Pate

Am I a hypocrite?

There is a lady involved with the beef industry that is very willing to share her opinions on all sorts of social issues. A while back she pretty much stated that we men needed to grow a pair and start acting like men. So I will, and the first thing I will say is that’s no way for a lady to talk, but it sure did get me to thinking about things.

Her statement caused my mind to ask myself this question. Am I a hypocrite? That is a tough one because it will make you really get honest with yourself (unless of course, you’re a hypocrite to yourself about your own honesty to yourself).

I have many strong opinions about what I feel is right and talk about being right, but do I live them? I actually feel pretty good about most of what I do and feel like I am honest with you and myself.

In thinking all this over, it caused me to create some thoughts that may be helpful for you to think about.

What is my purpose in life and am I fulfilling that purpose? I feel real private about a lot of things, but like to share my opinions with others.

I don’t really know what my purpose in life is. I have not got that one figured out just yet. I do know that so far my job for lot in life has been the training and care of animals that are involved in food for humans and horses that used for pleasure or in the production of animals.

I am real happy about that. I don’t know why but I have always had a compassion for animals. I have always had some kind of a dog in my life, and for some reason dogs seem to enjoy being around me. I like that. I am fascinated with cats. They are a very hard animal to figure out. Some cats really like being around me, but some want nothing to do with me. I want to get to a point that all cats like to be around me.

Some people would think of me as a hypocrite because I say I care about animals, but I eat them (I don’t eat dogs or cats, I hope …) or am not against rodeo. Other people would say I am a hypocrite because I am not sure ranch rodeo is a positive thing for the beef industry and the natural horsemanship movement has not been the best thing for the horse.

I am not saying these things to offend anyone, but simply giving my take on things from the way I see it. People can do whatever they want to do in our society. If it is against the law and if they are caught they will be punished in some way. All I am doing is voicing my opinion on what I think will create improvements.

That may be my purpose in life. My wife and I have purchased many places in our 25 years of marriage. I am proud to say we have improved each place considerably in the time we owned them. I have thrown my leg over lots of different horses in the last 50 years and hopefully I have made improvements to most of them. In the last 20 years or so I have hopefully made improvements in the way people communicate with animals and other people. Yep, I know “improvements” is my purpose in life.

Lets get back to the animal subjects …

How can I say I care about animals but still kill them for food?

To be honest I never even thought about this for a big part of life. I have been in the cycle of life and have seen nature’s harshness with death from predators or old age and have seen how slow, painful, and inhumane this process can be. Growing up with a grandfather that was a butcher, helping him slaughter since I could go with him, and seeing how much more effective he was at a quick and fearless death than nature, it never even entered my mind that what we were doing was wrong. We had cared for the animals, provided them with shelter and feed, which was our purpose in the deal and in turn, they did the same for us. We gave them a good quality of life, better than what they would have had if we were not involved, and in return they gave us a better quality of life in the form of food and shelter just as we provided for them.

Animals either don’t know what death is and aren’t afraid of it. If they did or were they would act very differently before they are harvested. They would not walk calmly up the chute to their death. Animals do have fear and to me we need to handle the animal in a way that keeps it from being afraid as much as possible.

Agricultural animals can take incredible amounts of discomfort. They can survive at extremely cold temperatures, have broken bones or body parts cut off and in a very short time get back to normal behavior. The worst thing that I see for animals is fear. I don’t think the pain of branding or castrating is inhumane to animals, but the fear it creates probably is. This is why it is important to be very effective a doing these processes. To brand an beef animal with a hot iron, it should take less than thirty seconds and be done. If it must be done do it properly and quickly then get the animal back to the herd to feel safe.

When a predator attacks the fear is extreme and can last a long time. If I raise the animal in a way that reduces stress, increases quality of life, and ends the life quickly and with the least fear and pain possible, while keeping natures natural cycle in harmony, I don’t feel I am being a hypocrite, but a true animal activist.

I used to rodeo and rode bucking horses and bulls. I really miss having the physical skill to ride bareback horses. I don’t miss riding bulls, it probably ranks up there with the dumbest things I have ever done. If I care about animals how could I do that? Most guys that ride bucking horses have the utmost respect for the horse, and have a lot of feel for the way a horse is handled and treated.

The way I see it, the bucking horse has the highest quality of life of all horses I have seen, including the wild horse. Most performance and pleasure horses get to much nutrition and not enough exercise. Many are kept in small enclosures and are in small numbers so the natural social order does not happen. Many trained horses are constantly being put under pressure to perform under high pressure training regimens and some get no exercise at all with little to no social interaction because of the human taking such good care of them, as if they were a human.

If you study the life of most bucking horses, they are raised in a herd, with lots of room to roam, get a pretty good balance of nutrition, and don’t have to work or be stressed for long periods of time like pleasure and performance horses. When they are learning to be performing bucking horses, they can have quite a bit of stress until they learn how to work in the system. The quicker they learn the easier it gets, so it is important to train them to the system.

Many of the problems that show up in performance and pleasure horses, such as soundness, disease and stress induced vices, are very rarely found in bucking horses. They live and perform longer as well. To me this is fact that the bucking horse has the best quality of life in the horse world. There may be more risk of injury because of the extreme energy they put out for 30 or 40 seconds, but this is actually what keeps them healthy, the short periods of high stress is exactly what nature does to keep an animal aware of danger, and healthy enough to do something about it.

As I look at rodeo, it appears to me that folks don’t see the big picture. Would I be a hypocrite if I justified tie-down roping? I don’t know if I can justify it and am not trying to, but I will give some observations. If we break roping and tying a calf down into its component parts it makes it easier to analyze. The horse and rider chasing the calf create fear so the calf runs. It is proven that an animal has one main thought at a time, so if the calf is running, that is a natural thing for calves to do, and as long as it is not for to long of a period of time it does not over stress the animal. If it is caught, this is the only time in the run when pain is really involved. The horse stops, the calf keeps running and he is stopped by the rope. It used to be the calf was jerked over backwards because of the sudden stop, but calf ropers have learned to not jerk them hard to keep them on their feet to get a faster time.

If you watch a bunch of cows and calves together, and a new calf that is only hours old try to suck the wrong cow they get butted or kicked real hard, and it does not hardly phase them. Calves take way more punishment from other cows than they do from the sudden stop of the rope.

The next thing that happens is the cowboy runs down the rope. This creates fear in the calf and it again thinks about and tries to run away. After the roper gets a hold of the calf, he flanks him down. To be honest this is when the cruelty can happen. If he is flanked real high and hard, it could knock the air out or stun the calf. When a calf or any fleeing animal is on its side and restrained they will struggle briefly and then usually give up and lay quiet.

Mother Nature has created this. When a prey animal is caught they struggle for a while then give up and go somewhere else with the mind. This is the way animals deal with the fear of attack. You can see this in a tie down roping run. If the roper flanks smooth, strings the front foot quickly, then scoops the hind legs low and firm the calf does not have time to struggle. When the roper gets of the calf the may struggle a couple of times then lay quiet until untied. Many times after the run the calf almost walks or trots off in a better state than when he started.

All this takes from 7 to 30 seconds. Now there are some things we could do to minimize the jerk of the rope like a calf collar to reduce the ropes pressure on the neck. That may help but I have to remember that the calk takes more abuse from its own mother or other cows. If the horse overworks this would be helpful in keeping the rope from choking the calf.

Of all the timed events tie-down roping is the most criticized. It used to be called calf roping. This is why it is thought to be the most abusive, because you are dealing with young, cute calves. In my opinion it is the least abusive of all timed events that involve cattle. The one that gets the least mention is the one that I feel is the hardest on cattle and that is team roping. Team roping steers are big and look tough with their horns. When you have a horse that weighs 1200 pounds plus, and a steer that can weigh well over 500 pounds and you are going around 20 miles per hour, and you rope that animals hind foot or feet and you dead stop it all that is a bunch of stretch from his heels to his horns.

I point these things out to show, in the way I truly and factually believe animals deal with stress, pain and fear.

I am not a big fan of ranch rodeo. I like most of the people involved, admire the skills the competitors have perfected, love the tradition and gear, but I cannot find a way to justify the events. All the things they do in a ranch rodeo pretty much go against everything we try to promote with the Stockmanship and Stewardship program the National Cattleman’s Beef Association sponsors. These practices are not what I envision as what the customer sees as Beef Quality Assurance. I am not saying they are wrong for doing it, and don’t think ill of someone that promotes or participates in it, but I would be a hypocrite if I tried to justify it.

The difference between rodeo and ranch rodeo is the events. Rodeo animals can be patterned and trained to accept the pressure and the events are quick. Lots of pressure under 10 seconds, then back to the herd. If you look at ranch rodeo there is quite a lot of wild chasing and quite a bit of stress on the cattle and really no way to pattern or train the cattle before, and the pressure can last quite a while. With ranch rodeo the real good competitors get it done quick and effectively, but many times things don’t go as good for some, and these circumstances create what I see as the problem. Professionally run rodeos have become very strict with rules and time limits and are quick to punish for animal abuse. This is the way it must be.

I would be a hypocrite if I did not give my honest point of view on this. I will probably make some folks mad about this subject, and for that I am truly sorry. I have learned the hard way that when you say what you believe it can cause friends, or who you thought were friends, to get real upset.

It is interesting to explore the different ways people think we should care for and use animals. I like to visit with vegetarians and animal activists that will give me a chance to discuss my reasons for believing in and doing the things I do. If you can keep from being in a confrontation, but keep it in a discussion, it really helps them see things from my point of view. I think the better I get at this the closer I will be to getting to pet more cats, and as I said before that is real important to me.

~ Curt Pate