Issues of water and slaughter go hand in hand
There are some casualties of the extended drought and government decisions involving ownership of water. New Mexico watches lots of water travel through our state without being able to use it. This protracted drought and lack of water for farmers directly caused something the newspapers recently covered: the appearance of horse maltreatment and a plan for a horse slaughterhouse in Roswell. The two-fer of horses not being fed well and the desire to slaughter horses has people not understanding.
Do not get me wrong, any day I get horse boogers on me is a good day. I like horses better than people and only slightly less than dogs, but it is close. I have spent quite a bit of time around horses and have a good understanding of equine issues. In fact, I understand the physics of when a horse is standing on your boot; it will take all of the weight off the other three hooves.
Cattle to market
So why are horses looking bad these days? Start with this question: Why did many New Mexico ranchers take most of their cattle to market last summer? It was the price of feed. The normal price of alfalfa was about six dollars a bale. Suddenly it went up and up until, today, that price now is around $22 a bale. Why sell herds of animals? Because it is too hard to feed the livestock and remain profitable when feed goes up 400 percent. And feed them the producers must, because New Mexico is in an extended, hard drought.
That does not excuse mistreatment of any animal, but we need to soften our hearts a bit and understand the dynamics at work. First, why is feed up 400 percent? It is entirely connected to lack of water for New Mexico farmers. Growing alfalfa requires lots of water. Rain alone will not do it in New Mexico. When the snowpack is much less than abundant and the allocation of water to farmers is cut, the farmers must concentrate their slender water resources on growing fewer fields to have enough water for their crops.
Consequently, the price of feed started going up. There was a scarcity of New Mexico alfalfa that was satisfied by alfalfa growers in Colorado and Arizona. The law of supply and demand for feed made the price rise. Competing for the feed are three broad groups: people with horses, dairies, and other livestock producers.
There is one other factor: Horses require feed with very little or no weeds concurrently grown in it. Cattle can eat alfalfa that has some weeds that grew intermingled in the alfalfa. Some livestock such as goats can eat weeds with no ill effects. The fragile horse palate means they can only eat the best feed, which costs the most.
So last summer amid the drought and rising feed prices, many cattle operations culled their herds down, taking most of the cattle to market rather than feeding at skyrocketing prices. But what about horse operations?
What about horses?
What do horse operations do with a glut of horses that no one wants because feed prices make the horses too expensive? What to do with those horses? Years ago those extra horses would have gone to slaughterhouses so horse ranchers could recover some of their investment and stay in business. It was not what anyone who had horses wanted to do, but it was what they had to do.
Then the federal government, with no understanding of the economics of horse ranchers, closed the last slaughterhouse in 2007 by not certifying it. It is not illegal to slaughter horses; the government just decided for political reason to not certify each slaughterhouse. So horses have to go somewhere. They are shipped to Mexico to be slaughtered there under less-humane conditions.
New Mexico must get a handle on water such that farmers have a full allotment of water for their growing season, or cost-of-feed problems will only get worse. If New Mexico farmers can grow lots of alfalfa, the price will fall and pressures will ease on the livestock producers.
It will not entirely do away with the market need to slaughter horses, but it will reduce it.
Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.