Horse breeding industry faces crisis

FORESTBURG, Alta. – Tears welled up in Betty Coulthard’s eyes as she described the day she delivered two loads of young mares to a slaughter plant.

After a disappointing production sale last spring where 44 registered Quarter horses did not sell out of 60 on offer, she had to make the difficult choice of culling the herd on her Forestburg ranch.

She shipped 25 young, registered horses to a meat plant at Lacombe, Alta. Her average price per horse on the first load was $161 and a second load averaged $191.

A Quarter horse breeder for more than 30 years in central Alberta, Coulthard sees her livelihood slipping away. She keeps about 50 mares and many trace back to North American championship stock.

She raises and sells young horses for pleasure riding, barrel racing or showing.

“You have to breed 100 horses a year to get two good horses.”

Coulthard is concerned about people who do not want to spend $2,000 on a sound young horse that can be trained.

Instead, they are willing to buy a horse with unknown history at an auction for less than $200. At that rate, she cannot stay in business.

“We are not hobby people, we are business people,” she said.

Coulthard is also concerned when people suggest unwanted animals go to rescue services. These are often horses in difficulty. They may have structural or temperament problems. By being raised at rescue centres, their genetics are being preserved while breeders of quality animals exit the industry.

“We’ll see our horse quality diminish as professional breeders disappear,” Coulthard said.

She believes a number of things brought her business to its knees. The recession shrunk incomes and she could no longer afford to keep horses.

Too many hobbyists are breeding horses with no plans for the resulting foals and too many slaughter animals are coming in from the United States, which drives down the meat price.

She also cites lack of organization and communication among horse breeders as a problem. Too few people were aware of new identification regulations that may also prevent them from selling them to slaughter plants, she said.

The market is poor but it is not necessarily connected to high import numbers, said Alberta Agriculture horse specialist Les Burwash.

“The right kind of horses still have reasonable value,” he said.

“The American horses coming into the processing plants are not affecting the sale of horses that are useful,” he said.

Burwash estimates about 125,000 horses are processed each year in Canada with most of the meat destined for Europe.

“If the people are going there to buy a cheap horse, then they are going to buy a cheap horse. They are only going to spend so much money.”

A June auction at Vold-Jones-Vold in Dawson Creek, B.C., reported 317 horses sold. Broke geldings ranged from $250-$2,000, colts and fillies were $50-$270 and mature studs were $100-$425.

Other livestock markets are depressed as well and if horse owners are forced to sell to the meat plants, Burwash advises they sell them on the rail where they might receive $250 rather than accept a live price for half that amount.

The requirement for full health documentation on every horse presented at a federal slaughter plant has created additional obstacles.

Burwash said horse owners will just have to learn to live with the new regulations.

He does not want to see the Canadian slaughter industry jeopardized because of lack of traceability.

“If we lose our processing of horses, probably 35 to 40 percent of our horses will have zero to negative values and we will have the same or more of the welfare issues that we have seen in the United States with the closing of the processing plants,” he said.

Billy Smith of the American Quarter Horse Association said when the U.S. Congress eliminated U.S. horse slaughter in 2007 by refusing to fund meat inspectors, no budget was provided for dealing with unwanted horses.

He said it is unlikely horse slaughter will return to the U.S. soon.

Anyone hoping to build a plant would need significant legislative support and that is unlikely because Congress fears the backlash from protests and litigation costs.

“The horses are just dying. They are starving to death or they are ending up in transport to Mexico,” said Smith.

“The yearling horse market is pretty lousy so it is a difficult thing and it is an unintended consequence of legislation in the United States.”

  • Ruth Lenahan

    So, let me ask you, why do you produce horses using embryo transfer on surrogate mares? You are “puppy mills” (of horses) . . . pure & simple!!

    • Terry Donald

      We need to have the bottom fall out, this mess was created by specialization in the horse industry. If I own a mare that raises me a colt that is going to cost more to develop that he is worth, I’m going to sell the mare. I train and show all of my mares before I breed them. This is very important for two reasons, 1. I know after training the mare what her strengths and weaknesses are. Without this knowledge I would have no idea which stallion to breed her to if she was even worth breeding at all. 2. I never have to see my horses sell for meat, broke mare that slides. Spins, steers is always going to sell for 5or 6 thousand. These people have been cheating and scamming “new people” for years, I’m glad they are done, feel sorry for their horses the same way I would feel sorry for a little kid that had stupid parents that had 14 kids and they can’t afford to feed them, buy them a bike, let them play sports and maybe pay for some post secondary education. Anyone that wants a top-notch horse can go to any trainer and tell them what they want, what they can afford, there will always be horses that didn’t cut the mustard. These are topnotch horses that just were not going to be good enough to make any money in for example cutting or reining, make an awesome rope horse etc.(recycle, try to give every horse a chance, except the brain dead or crippled.

  • Debrah

    Right on Ruth! Who is it that is producing 100 horses to find 2 goods ones.? It’s the breeders so quit blaming the hobbiest who in their life with horses may produce 1 foal. Not that hobbiest should be breeding their horses, but it is definitely the fault of breeders who flood the market. I have no sympathy for the plight that they have helped create.

    And tell me Betty, as you delivered your load of 25 young mares to the slaughterhouse, did you think of the foals that you have on the ground or still unborn? Did you decide to cancel future breedings? Or are you still searching for the one good one?

    • Deedie Cameron

      I agree. If you have to put 100 foals on the ground just to get two good ones, do horses everywhere a favor and get out of the horse breeding business. People aren’t buying or keeping horses like they used to, so STOP BREEDING for about five minutes and give the industry time to balance. Stop whining because you can’t use the slaughter industry as a disposal for the 98 horses you have to put on the ground in order to get two that meet your standards. It’s your own greed doing you in. Not the lack of slaughter plants.

    • Lorraine

      Might I add that if she posted her horses for sale at $200 each, she wouldn’t have had to send them to slaughter. But I’m sure she wanted much more for them. After all, it’s just a business. I wonder if she will continue to breed?

  • Terry Donald

    Ruth you are wrong! If more breeders knew what they were doing they would have only 2or 3 really good mares bred to the best cross in the industry, resulting (via embryo transplant) in very high quality horses. Anyone that has a hundred mares isn’t going to develop the offspring, most expect someone else to buy their “great colt” and that’s just ridiculous. Horse people need to be humbled, if you are buying royally bred horses by the hundreds they are probably mostly serious breeders culls, do you know anyone other than amateurs with $200.00 to spend looking for a cull to do whatever on?

  • Clancy

    So the lady is going out of business partly because the large numbers of slaughter horses coming in from the US has dropped the price of ‘kill’ horses? That tells me she is basically breeding for meat, and as far as I am concerned, the sooner she is out of business the better. It would be very interesting to see how many breeders bred such large numbers if there was no meat market, and if they had to pay to have excess animals killed.

  • shanie

    oh please … all u care about is the money

    • Robin

      QUIT OVER BREEDING. PLAN AND SIMPLE. THE ONE IN THE END IS THE HORSE THAT SUFFERS A HORRIFIC DEATH. IVE BEEN THERE AND IT HAS SCARED ME FOR LIFE. SAVE A LIFE QUIT OVER BREEDING.

  • jean

    I am so disgusted by this. lots of people still breeding and i get that but if you are be ready to feed them and take care of them even if you have to work 3 jobs. Taking them to slaughter is inexcusable. The horse industry is important and breeding within reason and selling a couple of horse, ok great. I am with you on that but to the point of taking them to slaughter , then do not BREED~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Disappointed that still people like this exist.

  • Janna Lukens

    There is so much wrong with this picture that it is difficult to even comment. First of all, if you need to breed “100 horses to get two good horses”, you should not be breeding at all. What do you do with the 98 non-good ones? IRRESPONSIBLE! If you are a professional breeder, it should be the other way around – 2% are non-good ones… Responsible breeders should have homes for the babies BEFORE the mares are bred. Take reservations. Don’t breed foals that have no place to go.

    These horses are obviously being raised for meat. As long as slaughter remains an option, people like Betty Coulthard will continue to practice animal abuse by condemning healthy young horses to the cruelest torture and death possible – the Kill Box. People like this “professional breeder” should not be in business. Stop the Slaughter once and for all!

    • Robynne

      Very well said, Janna. To everyone who still believes horse slaughter is necessary, you need education. Come see me on my thousand-mile anti-slaughter RIDE FOR THEIR LIVES from Ohio to Delaware next month. We’ll talk.

  • Mike Kelly

    This story is do far off base it’s ridiculous …. There are so many more factors I must consider when breeding horses and pedigree is only one part …. Type conformation all plays a part and feeding babies to look like money is a major factor …. You will not make money thinking grass will put growth on them … You want to get the real story talk to people who know how to do it

  • Tami Hottes

    This is what is wrong with this industry! I hope the S.A.F.E. Act is passed so she can’t slaughter another 98 foals and their mothers this year! Put her and the rest of these animal exploiters OUT OF BUSINESS!!!!

  • Jo-Claire Corcoran

    I call BS, tears when she took two trailer loads of mares to the slaughter plant. first place if you have to breed 100 mares to get 2 good foals, then your breeding program pretty much sucks. You should get out of the business because you’re a very poor business person and truly do not care about the horses you drop on the ground. Good thing she’s getting out of the breeding business because she is really not very good at her job.

  • Steve Stapp

    Get out of the business before you inflict anymore to the brutality of the butcher. If you and a bunch of others hadn’t started “pony mills” you wouldn’t be selling for meat prices. Gawd almighty you produce 100 to get 2 with no plan for the 98 other than to slaughter them…May God forgive you because I surely will not!

    • sherry

      amen! you said it Steve!

  • Angela Brown

    Seems to me if they were breeding quality to quality it would only take 2 foals to get 2 good foals.

  • Michelle

    Oh cry me a river! I will weep for your horses you idiot. Stop Breeding Now. It is people exactly like you who are responsible for the horror that is horse slaughter.

  • darlene supnick

    Anyone who can breed registered horses and ship them to slaughter is a disgrace to the horse world. Overbreeding is the problem and responsible disposition of the horses is another issue. I have rescued registered and former show horses in kill pens from greedy breeders, off the track, work horses and horses from all areas of the country. I don’t know how this person sleeps at night sending horses that she was responsible for breeding, to the horrors of slaughter which is never humane.

  • Curious

    I have a question. When did horse slaughter become a “horror”? Just because we don’t like to eat it in our culture why is it wrong for other cultures to consume it?

  • Samantha Franke

    Ooooo I love a good animal welfare debate :) bottom line… producing 100 horses to fetch 2 “good ones” from the herd is irresponsible breeding practice. This “woe is me” story is absolutely the reason we are in this mess in the first place. Oh, and notice how I say “we” and I don’t refer to the horses because, like all domestic animal overpopulation issues, this is a manmade problem! This lady needs to wipe her stinkin tears and sit down for a good reevaluation of her breeding/training/ and care practices which dug her into this hole. Pretty much, she is running a glorified puppy mill of another species. Then, if that’s not enough, she comes out swinging with a punch to rescues and hobby breeders. I’m not saying every hobby farm is practicing responsible breeding practices by any means, but I know quite a few that are obviously doing a better job than she is. I also know of a few farms who do foal out about 10 mares per season and run approx. 100 head, and never once have they sent any to slaughter. They work with the stock they have, produce quality sport horses to several disciplines, and their horses receive all the care and compassion they will ever need… even if they aren’t bringing in an immediate paycheck. If you can’t provide that or some alternate form of husbandry… DO NOT BREED. I am hoping for breeding legislation which will control the ridiculous breeding practices that all of North America has seem to have adopted. It is not hard to have “good” bloodlines in your herd, and that is not always justification for producing animals. Look at any lame, broken down, pigeon toed racehorse and you will see some dazzling lineage. Doesn’t mean it can run, or that it is necessarily of “quality”. Our society needs a large kick to the ass, if you ask me.

  • vickysecho

    She is ‘concerned about people who do not want to spend $2,000 on a sound young horse that can be trained’ – they are buying those same horses at auction such as the ones she dumped for $200 – that she wanted $2000 for. These type breeders don’t understand ‘they’ have glutted the market and need to learn what a marketable horse is and how to market it or stop breeding. And PS – there is a gorilla in the room – horses in the US are NOT just dying for lack of a slaughter option – they are STILL currently being slaughtered – they aren’t starving and abandoned because there is no slaughter option – neglectful owners don’t care if slaughter is available or not – they are neglectful – they don’t care. Have no pity on a horse breeder that sends horses into the inhumane slaughter system….

  • Rachel

    Lol I have a breeding program but not 100 broodmares all come into barn get feet done and most are rideable… When they are close to foaling out they get their straw stall that is a soft stall I would not just breed thoundsands looking for 2 good ones I make all my foals amazing by handling them at birth

  • Laurie

    I read most of the above replys and have to say most of you took her statement out of context about breeding 100 to get 2 good ones, that is a saying for the racehorse world, How many racehorses are bred every year that never even see the track, what do you think happens to all them horses???? I feel her pain having to go through a sale and have only a handfull of buyers there, as for the hobby breeders, Just add up all them foals way out number all the professional breeders combine….. Can’t any of you activists feel the pain these people felt having to haul them horses to a slaughter plant ??????? When I was breeding 10-12 mares and got hit with a drought I had to make that same choice and hauled some of my mares to a sale and watched 2 meat buyers win the bids on my mares, I came up to them after the sale and handed them the AQHA records of the sire’s and was told by one of them , They won’t need them papers where they are going. That day has haunted me everyday since, something you will never ever forget………Today I see some of these so called rescue’s bid against the kill buyers and then beg for money to feed, vet care and god knows what else and end up losing the horse or selling a horse for 6-8 times more than the cost of the horse to some first time horse buyer with no knowlege of horse ownership and the horse ends up suffering a slow death somewhere else. Dam, People you are not helping the horse industry at all,If you were you would be not breeding these backyard horses and would be attending these herd sales…………It is what it is………….Think About it…….

    • Jack

      Okay so it seems like all you people have it figured out. So what are we gonna do with all the horses that nobody wants or can’t feed of there are no slaughter plants? Agreed 100 mares and only 2 good foals is a terrible ratio and floods the market. But for all you people who say no slaughter what are we gonna do with the horses that nobody wants? Set them free and hope for the best? Or send them to a rescue Center who can’t afford to take care of them? You people live in a dream world and can’t come to terms with reality. No one likes to kill horses but just cause we don’t eat them in our culture dosnt make it wrong or cruel. You don’t see the reality of it if there is no slaughter it’s just gonna be a more flooded market with no where to go but starve out horses and just turn them loose because people can’t afford to keep every single horse in the world.

  • Leah Dyck

    This makes me see red…good breeders do not need to breed huge quantities in order to produce good horses. That is a lack of knowledgeable breeding, research, and careful selection. In addition she is producing horses for an already flooded market, highly irresponsible. Her goal of $2000 for youngstock is absurdly low. That tells us she doesn’t have much invested at the outset. There is nothing in this article that is appropriate. While I do not support either, science proves that a death from starvation causes less suffering than a death via slaughter under the current process. Burwash is full of it. Meat price does not even slightly factor in to the value of good quality riding or sport horses. The only thing that I hope is correct from this garbage piece of writing is that horses breeding IS on the way out for the vast majority of AB breeders that subscribe to this inaccurate, irresponsible, uneducated way of doing it. Tears in her eyes, give me a break.

  • T Geiger

    I feel sorry for the horses these people are creating, they need to STOP breeding!!!! I find it hard to believe they are blaming others for breeding one or two when they are mass producing in such tough times. They need to take a good look at how they are destroying the industry. Sometimes hobbyists are more selective, breeding fewer & the best they can afford to the best match to create a dream horses they will proudly keep. Yes there are some bad backyard breeders that need to stop too but seriously anyone breeding in mass to get a couple good ones needs a wake up call!!!!

  • Laurella Desborough

    Looks like a lot of people commenting who know nothing about horses, the industry and such, but are definitely coming forth with animal rights talk. With any animal enterprise, there are serious matters to consider from the quality and health of the animals to the business of providing food and vet care for them. It would help if more people had a greater understanding of basic farming, much less of specialty animal breeding. I don’t see a lot of compassion here, just a lot of meanness, which is really uncalled for and adds nothing to the discussion.

  • SHERRY

    Stop breeding!!!!!!!!!!!!! don’t you get it yet? stop being so money hungry on the blood of American horses! your the problem that’s why horses are suffering….

  • Janet Schultz

    There is a good side to this dumb story – this lady and her ilk have proven why anyone in the business of reproducing horses should be licensed. She doesn’t deserve to make a penny off their being born.

  • ? Heather

    I bought a foal from the auction as a weanling, no papers, untouched, but saved her from going for meat. She is grade but she is well handled, will be trained by me and never bred. She will be nothing more than a pleasure horse I am sure… and unless she turns mean will have a home for my lifetime. The market is flooded, and this article says a lot. There are people who take those mares for cheap prices to save them from meat, retrain and rehome those that could have been. Yes, it’s a business for her, but it’s also a business that has animal welfare at the heart of it. Almighty dollar won – for $200 head on kijiji could she have sold the broodmares as she culled her herd? Probably… but it’s much easier to get the money from one big shot at the expense of the horses. :( Very sad for those animals.

  • Vance

    I think a lot of people are focused to much on the lady that has a large band of mares instead of the message of losing horse slaughter in canada would hurt the industry worse than over breeding. The USA is in an absolute mess over all thanx to celebrities that have no idea what they r trying to stop. Having said that, anybody that breeds a 100 mares a year and can’t sell the colts better sharpen their pencil.

  • Haiey

    Definitely makes sense to me. It’s the same as rabbit breeding with competitive, pedigree’d stock. It takes breeding a lot of does to get maybe a few show prospects.

    I am just lucky that if I breed 50 does, it is more “acceptable” and less of a money-loss when I cull 75 of those babies and keep the other 25 as show prospects to grow out, because rabbits were domesticated as a food source so it is less “wrong” to some people if I cull those.
    Where-as horses were domesticated as a source of transportation in most countries, so many people are against the thought of culling stock that is going to waste.

    THANK YOU for being responsible and culling what you didn’t need, and what didn’t sell. That is 44 less animals on the over-population list, and 44 less horses that could have potentially been irresponsibly bred by knowledgeable horse owners.

  • http:www.cherryvillefarms.com J W Cherry

    The slaughter of horses is something that is badly needed here in the United States, the rescues are full and the folks that cannot or will not care for their horses must have an avenue to remove them from the mix. Even though I love horse and own quite a few, I would much rather see them consumed than to suffer a life of deprivation. Personally I would not eat the meat, but many especially in other countries do. To humanely slaughter these animals is something we should and must allow for the betterment of the horse industry as a whole and even the individual animals. To have them being shipped to Mexico/Canada where they are handled in very bad circumstances does not make sense, nor is it regulated. Pass laws that regulate the humane treatment needed up till time they are slaughtered and use quick humane ways of doing the actual slaughter itself. If you love horses this is the only way to get things back into the proper balance needed in the USA. I have seen the conditions these horses endure going into Mexico and then the conditions while they are held there. I am not going to get graphic on everyone, but trust me when I say it is a living hell for them. There was a plant up in Morton Texas years ago that I once saw and they had over 1000 horses there in holding pens, much like a feed lot. The conditions were much better due to the fact that people here in the USA would not have put up with what goes on in Mexico/Canada. As I said before they deserve all the dignity we can give them up until the time they are packed. I strongly suggest that regulations need to be passed to provide for this and enforced here in the USA where we have some level of control over the operation. A better option for the horses and people that wish to use them alike I personally believe! In the long run also better for the entire horse industry here in the USA!

  • Tracy

    This isn’t every “good” breeders nightmare, it’s a “puppy mill” breeders reality. In this day and age, NO ONE needs 50 broodmares. No one! She states in the article, “You have to breed 100 horses a year to get two good horses.”…which is completely the truth if you are breeding for quantity rather than quality.

    The true dedicated, knowledgeable and responsible breeder knows to breed for quality, not quantity….and sometimes that means adapting to the current market demands, or lack thereof. With the later philosophy in mind (breed for quality, not quantity), then you get 5 good horses out of 5! This problem is only due to a breeder being uneducated in regards to the current market and over-breeding. It is the “puppy mill” breeders who are flooding and ruining the market. She blames everybody else for the problem, except herself. :( Sorry, I do not feel sorry for Betty Coulthard. She has created this mess herself!

  • AM

    I think the whole point here is that horse breeding really isn’t an industry and really shouldn’t be treated as such. Unless you have established buyers, DON”T BREED!!!!

  • Chloe

    No, horses in rescues or auctions are not necessarily those with issues, health or otherwise. Many times they are the same quality of horses you just dumped onto somebody’s dinner plate. Time to reevaluate your business plan, I believe.