“There’s not a farmer or rancher in Minnesota, or across the United States, that isn’t concerned about the proper care and treatment of all livestock, horses included,” said Kevin Paap, president, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.

Paap indicated a mission of Farm Bureau is to tell the public those good things that are part of American agriculture, including the management of the U.S. livestock industry.

“We need a system nationwide that properly addresses how to dispose of aging animals that have outlived their useful life. We do not have enough ‘nursing homes’ for retired horses, and this recent nationwide ban on horse slaughter only complicates the issue.”

He said Farm Bureau is very much aware of the current economy and the increase of “unwanted horses” simply being dumped on private and public grounds.

“Obviously, that’s not fair to the horses, nor to the land owners, even of so-called public lands,” Paap said. “So Farm Bureau and other farm groups need to do everything we can to let the public know about these issues. Animal welfare is so important to us as farmers and ranchers. There has to be a system in place to properly handle these animals when they no longer have a useful life, especially the random dumping of horses that is now happening.”

Paap described the ban on horse slaughter, and the pending move to limit export of live horses to Canada or Mexico, as simply shutting down the options of horse owners.

“Even though we don’t eat horse meat in this country, it doesn’t seem fair that we prohibit the export of U.S. horse meat to those countries where it is part of their consumer diet. Actions so far are simply adding to the challenges of the U.S. horse world.”

Wild horse issues

In the western states, the Bureau of Land Management indicates about 30,000 wild horses are confined to BLM herd management areas spread over 29 million acres of BLM land. BLM has a total of 258 million acres.

Mustangs have been federally protected since 1971 when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted to prevent capture, branding, harassment or killing of wild horses.

Under that act, the BLM must keep wild horse herds at what it decides are appropriate management levels. But like any federal program it is constantly being challenged. Some say herd levels are getting too low, threatening the genetic viability of the herds; ranches say they’re unrealistically high, threatening vital grazing.

Roughly 5,000 wild horses go to private homes every year through the BLM adoption process, and at prices from $150 to $3,000 per horse depending upon whether it is still a wild horse, or has been saddle broken. Inmates at a federal prison at Cañon City, Colo., have become major “breakers” of wild horses.

An unintended consequence of the ban on U.S. slaughter is the movement of horses to Canada and Mexico. There is no way to tell how many of those animals, exported in crowded trailers, are former wild horses.

The Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service has yearly production and population numbers on virtually every aspect of Minnesota agriculture, except horses.

“We generate horse numbers every five years. And these represent only farm horses, not the hundreds of saddle and racing horses that are found in Minnesota,” said Doug Hartwig, MASS director. U.S. Department of Agriculture Census data released Feb. 4 indicates the current population of horses and ponies on Minnesota farms is 90,140. Back in 2002, the number was 92,770.

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