The Slaughter Process: Walking the Halls of Horror
Industrialized horse killing is far from being the idealized, “aseptic”, “happy” process depicted by horse slaughter lobbyists and related proponents with such mind-insulting terms such as “horse harvesting”, employed to manipulate the minds of the weakest and remove from it its negative aspects, so as to make it sound like happy trails for the unsuspecting victims of this industry-driven monster. The choice of such weasel words is not by chance.
Make no mistake, industrialized horse slaughtering, the very same one embarrassingly defended by groups such as AQHA, AAEP-AVMA, NCBA or characters like Sue Wallis, Conrad Burns or Charles Stenholm to name a few, is the most egregious cruelty act possibly perpetrated against an equine. It is a bloody, incredibly painful and lasting process starting with the betrayal of our equine friends at the hands of the killer buyers in auctions throughout the country and ends with a terror trip inside the guts of a killing machine in some foreign land.
The journey trough the halls of horror usually commences with horses being brought to local sale auctions, where unsuspecting owners go thinking their animals will go to “good families”, ranches, farms and such. Other times, the animals are obtained by individuals under false pretenses, fraud or simply stolen from barns with the intent to dump them in these local sales for fast cash. In other cases, alarmingly not so uncommon, these are “federally protected” wild horses removed from their ranges and either adopted under false pretenses to later sell them at auction or simply taken from government-run “holding facilities”, sometimes by their own employees. In any case, horses always end up in these auction rings, frequented or even run by the aforementioned “killer buyers”, acting thus as stock collecting points for the plants.
In such places, horses are left in overcrowded, filthy pens set in an unfamiliar place and with unfamiliar, often aggressive horses, in a noisy environment without food and water, causing the animals to become frightened, fight each other and get injured. Here, horses are brutally beat, kicked and poked in the head or the eyes by uncaring workers in charge of moving them from the pens to the ring and back to the trucks, showing a total disregard for laws and the pain inflicted on these animals.
Usually the animals are left untended, without any food or water and sometimes even left in the trucks overnight before they are taken to the plants or to slaughter feedlots, regardless of the weather conditions. Pregnant mares are not segregated and give birth in the pens, the foal being trampled to death. Sick, skinny horses not worth to the killers are simply discarded and left to die. This sad scene repeats throughout the country, fueled by the horse slaughter industry.
Although you can find auction sales throughout the country, the most important killer auctions are Sugar Creek Livestock Auction in Ohio, New Holland Sales Stables in Pennsylvania, Billings Livestock Auction in Montana, Shipshewana Horse & Tack Auction in Indiana, Southwest Livestock Auction in Los Lunas, New Mexico and Stephenville, in Texas.
A detailed study of the heinous atrocities going on in one of such auctions can be found at Animals Angels website.
From this point, horses are taken from auction to auction until the killers fill their quotas and then to the slaughter plants or to a livestock feedlot intended to serve as assembly point and “stock deposit” prior to their exportation to Canada and Mexico. There are two main such feedlots in the US: the Frontier Feedlot & Game Meat Co. (a front company belonging to the Beltex ‚Äî Multimeats, NV group), in Morton, Texas, supplying with fresh horses the Beltex plants in Mexico, and the Bar-S feedlot in Shelby, Montana, operated by Bouvry Export Calgary, Ltd, one of the Canadian horse slaughter plants.
With an inadequate food and water supply, horses are kept languishing in these feedlots with no shelter at all, exposed to extreme weather conditions, from snowstorms to burning Texas summer sun, until they are shipped across the border to be killed hundreds of miles away.
The final ride to the plants is not any better. Horses are shipped hundreds of miles from the auctions or feedlots to the slaughter plants in trailers not designed for horses but to haul beef cattle, usually for days, without any food, water or rest whatsoever. The low ceiling of these trailers prevents them from traveling upright, which together with the overcrowding (a typical killer buyer load averages 30-40 animals) and the fact uncaring killer buyers never segregate studs from other horses, results in severe kick, bite, head and neck injuries. In some instances, horses are transported in open trailers providing no shelter at all from extreme weather.
Some horses arrive so badly injured that cannot move and are dragged out of the trailer; others are already dead or almost dead and are lift-forked out of the killing floor.
Horses are very sensitive animals, with an acute hearing and smell. Such travel conditions create a state of permanent agitation and terror which is further amplified by the smell of blood and the screams of other horses by the time they reach the slaughter plant.
To learn more about the transportation of horses for slaughter watch the slideshow, courtesy of Animals’ Angels. (120 MB, right click to download) or browse the numerous transport regulations violation records obtained from USDA.
Slaughter proponents argue that horse slaughter is necessary for owners to dispose off old, sick and skinny animals, yet evidence taken at the very same plants and data from the United States Department of Agriculture reveals that 92% of the horses slaughtered are young (under 8 years of age) and 96% are in good or excellent condition. Horse slaughter only brings unnecessary destruction of healthy, young horses.
At the plants, horses experience again extremely rough handling by plant employees. Scared by the sense of imminent death, they are prodded and beaten while they are moved to holding pens and to the kill chute.
Now comes the stunning, bleeding and cutting of the horse carcasses; this is where their ordeal ends.
Contrary to claims from slaughter supporters and industry’s lobbyists, the killing process is far from being anything resembling a humane, painless or merely “quick” death.
In first place horses are supposed to be “rendered unconscious” before the actual killing commences; however, this is not usually the case. The stunning is achieved by different mechanisms but equally ineffective and cruel in any way.
In the United States horses were stunned by means of a blow in the head inflicted with a captive bolt gun; a device powered by compressed air that drives at high speed a steel bolt to the target, theoretically causing brain damage resulting in loss of consciousness. It does not kill, actual death is caused by exsanguination (loss of blood) caused by throat slitting.
However, such stunning method is difficult to apply to a terrified horse that dodges objects approaching its head and not only requires a very skilled worker (which is rarely the case) but also a series of auxiliary measures to be administered correctly. The gun and the air hose needs to be carefully maintained periodically to make sure the bolt is properly powered and, most importantly, the horse’s head needs to be properly restrained to prevent the bolt from missing. Photo and video evidence shows that horses are not restrained at all in the kill chute (to speed up the slaughtering line) and equipment is not properly maintained, causing the bolt to either miss or strike the head with too lower force than required to render the animal properly unconscious. This explains the numerous accounts of heinous and blatant cruelty reflected in undercover investigations and official USDA’s FSIS veterinary inspection reports at the Beltex and Cavel’s plants obtained through FOIA:
- horses enduring multiple painful blows in the head, eyes and neck until they are reduced,
- animals recovering consciousness during throat slitting and, sometimes, further stages of the killing process due to the speed of the line (in their best days Cavel could kill up to 700 horses per day).
In fact, a great number of these animals were fully conscious while their throats were slit.
In Canada, the process is exactly the same but sometimes, instead of a captive bolt gun, a .22 carbine is used to render the horses unconscious, which equally poor results: In first place, these guns are chambered for a .22 LR round, which is way too weak to cause enough brain damage inducing permanent unconsciousness, hence ensuring a quick, humane death, given that horses have thicker skin and skulls than the small, possum size animals that round is intended for. In second place, it is very difficult to properly hit the forehead of a scared, long necked animal which is not restrained at all and moves its head constantly. If we add to the mix uncaring and unskilled workers, we get the obvious result: horses that have to be shot multiple times until they are reduced, bullets missing and hitting them anywhere but the forehead and, of course, animals fully conscious during the rest of the slaughter process.
Mexico is not any better. Horses there are not rendered unconscious during the killing process but merely immobilized by stabbing them with a sort of dagger called puntilla in the back of the neck to break the spinal cord. This neither kills them nor render them unconscious but merely incapacitates them (like if they were tetraplegic) before they are hoisted, their throats slit and dismembered. During all such process horses are fully aware of the situation, causing a slow, painful and horrid death. Such slaughtering procedure, applied merely to simply operations, seems to be the cause behind the reported strong, special taste so much liked in Belgium, apparently due to the release of adrenalin as a consequence of the stress induced in the animals.
After that they are dismembered, internal organs removed, cut, packed and flown in chilled containers for consumption in upscale European restaurants, where the elite of society can please themselves with the genuine taste of authentic wild horse, as sold by the plants to retailers. “Killed on Friday, processed Monday, Thursday we load the truck and then it’s flown to Europe. Monday it’s sold in Belgium, Tuesday eaten, Wednesday it’s back in the soil”, to quote Pascal Derde, manager of the former Cavel West plant in Redmond, Oregon.