Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Competing for the Same Grass - Cattle and Mustangs

Very little puts people at odds with each other out West than to have discussions about Wild Horses (Mustangs) and Burros. Ranchers hate them for the grass they consume, putting cattle operations and their livelihood at risk. Animal lovers, unrealistically sometimes, want the U.S. Government to go to great lengths to preserve each and every animal. This issue is closing in on us as between now and October, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to roundup and remove over 6,000 more wild horses and burros from six Western states.

I have friends who are ranchers. I want to see them thrive and maintain the western lifestyle that is often just hard work to just even get a month to month existence. However I’m not willing to support the cruel, and sometimes unnecessary death of Mustangs that are a national treasure. In fact I have had some very heated and emotional arguments with some ranchers wanting the vast majority of Mustangs put down to preserve or even expand grazing units for cattle.

Animals lovers on the other hand, thinking that horses should die of old age and not slaughter, are responsible for the closure of horse slaughter plants here in the U.S. which caused horses to be shipped horses to Mexico, by inhumane transport measures, for the un-regulated slaughter in Mexico to support the horse meat demand in Europe. Don’t have a problem with people eating horse meat. Do have a problem with the inhumane killing of any animals, particularly horses. Imagine a frantic horse being run into a chute, then stabbed in the neck-withers area until it is paralyzed, then hauled up by it’s back legs with chains and having his neck cut so he can bleed out.

There needs to be some give in both sides. Proponents of the Mustangs (and I count myself among them) must understand that ranchers’ concerns of: over grazing by herds of Mustangs destroying cattle land; and the inbreeding within these herds leading to unhealthy and diseased animals. Animal lovers should reflect on if they want horses humanely killed in the country under regulated conditions for transport and basic care; or do they want horses taken to Mexico in terrible conditions and killed in a very inhumane manner.

Open land in the West is diminishing. Everyone has got to be good stewards of not only the lands but also the wildlife so we can preserve these for generations to come. When people let emotions boil over on this issue, they often push people to the other side of argument.

Again, I am a Wild Horse supporter. I have contributed money to this cause and own a Mustang (or he owns me) that is just a people loving great little horse. I also have several friends that cowboy for the BLM - good hands and good people all.

Here is some information from The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, whose heart is in the right place, even those some of their facts may be a little off:

In 1971, an unprecedented public outcry moved Congress to unanimously pass the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, granting federal protection to America ’s wild horses and burros as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West […] that […] contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”

From over 2 million in the 1800s, America ’s wild horse population has dwindled to fewer than 33,000. There are now more wild horses in government holding pens than remain in the wild, with many of the remaining herds managed at population levels that do not guarantee their long-term survival. Still, the round-ups continue. Yes true, but the West is much more populated than it was in the 1800’s. The demand for beef has grown.

Over the past forty years, federal law enacted by the people on behalf of their wild horses has been ignored. Largely ignored I would say. No strategic plan to keep viable herds of wild horses on public lands was ever developed. This is true.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots efforts are supported by a coalition of over forty organizations. I wholly support viable solutions to keep more of the animals living and ranging free in decent areas that provide forage and water.

The AWHPC Coalition is calling on Congress to suspend the government wild horse roundups in all but verifiable emergency situations while the entire BLM wild horse program undergoes objective and scientific review. I support this.

The AWHPC Coalition is also calling for implementation of in-the-wild management, which would keep wild horses on the range and save taxpayers millions annually by avoiding the mass removal and stockpiling wild horses in government holding facilities. I support this if it is done fairly.

The BLM uses helicopters for roundups, and while that may be a cost effective manner to push Mustangs to holding areas or corrals, it is often a brutal method causing stress and panic in the herds, separating foals from mares, and slow agonizing deaths from injuries. This should change. Pay some Cowboys a working wage to do this the old way.

The AWHPC states that beginning in August, the BLM intends to use helicopters to roundup and remove 480 wild horses living in the Confusion Mountains in Utah . The agency claims a 474,000-acre complex can sustain only 195 horses, even as it authorizes the equivalent of 3,300 cattle to graze the same public lands area! This just ain’t right. Cattle eat feed that horses won’t. In desert environments 200 horses for 500,000 acres would be close to being right.

The AWHPC further states that the BLM has the clear authority, under 43 C.F.R. 4710.5(a), to close livestock grazing on areas of public lands "if necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury." The AWHPC is advocating the sustainment of Mustangs at the expense of grazing lands for Ranching families. Although the Federal Government, in it’s infinite wisdom, sometimes re-designates areas from grazing leases to wilderness areas which take away available grazing units for ranchers, I do not see the BLM closing livestock areas to provide for the Mustangs. Clearly every side is affected with any decision.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign website


  1. The Ranchers get to use federal land for free or very cheap. The government is killing Mustangs just so the ranchers can get rich. We need to make it fairer for the Mustangs. Cowgirl in Illionis

  2. Just found your blog - really enjoying what I'm reading so far.

    I believe I share your stance on horse slaughter. It's okay to do it, as long as it's done fairly and quickly. We raise beef, this fall we had enough fat calves to fill a semi, and I believe the calves are slaughtered humanely. But a calf and a horse are very very different.

    How can a scared, fighting horse, or one who's never been handled, be killed humanely? It would be easy to humanely kill a broke horse, but what about a wild one? How can it be done safely?

    I understand the emotions behind people not wanting horses slaughtered, but I believe slaughter if done humanely is no different than euthanasia, except the animal's body is not wasted, the meat is used. Personally, I do not want to eat horse meat, but if someone wants to, it's fine with me IF it's done carefully and safely and as kindly to the horse as possible. But how?