Dead, Decaying and Suffering Horses Found in Feedlots
International Coalition of Animal Welfare Groups Calls on EU to Stop Imports of Canadian Horsemeat.
For more information, contact
Sinikka Crosland, Executive Director
Canadian Horse Defence Coalition
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Feedlot Equines
(Guidelines which are Ineffective Because They are Ignored)
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines are part of the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFAAC) developed guidelines to the care and handling of farm animals. The Codes serve as a national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices. The current version was published in 2013. As stated in the Preface to the Codes, it represents a consensus amongst diverse stakeholder groups. Consensus results in a decision that everyone agrees advances animal welfare but does not imply unanimous endorsement of every aspect of the Code. So while the 10 sections of the Code pertain to care and management of all equines, there is an implied message that feedlots are exempt from most of these sections.
Therefore, the CHDC has reviewed the Codes that pertain to feedlot management (Section 5 – Feedlot Management – pages 37-39). Feedlot management is also outlined in two sections under Health Management pertaining to Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationships (VCPR) and Body Condition Scoring.
Feedlots are centralized feeding operations where animals are fed concentrated feed mixtures to efficiently reach a target weight prior to slaughter. Section 5 – Feedlot Management outlines the additional requirements and recommended practices that apply specifically to the feedlot industry.
5.1 – Handling at Loading and Unloading and 5.2 – New Arrivals
The video evidence at no time shows horses being loaded or unloaded, or new horses introduced, so there are no comments on these sections.
5.3 – Feeding
Feedlot horses can be fed a ration of 60-70% grain; however, overfeeding grain without gradual adjustment is associated with laminitis and other health conditions. The feedlot video evidence from Bouvry-owned lots in Canada and the US confirm that horses are fed concentrated feed rations that make them obese. While requirements state that feedlot horses must receive a diet that is adequate for maintaining health and vigour, in reality most horses are seen to be fat and lethargic on feedlots.
Recommended practices for feedlots have detailed specifics that horses must be introduced to the feedlot ration gradually over a minimum of 30 days and preferably 60 days. Operators should consult with a nutritionist or veterinarian to develop a feed management plan and they should provide continuous access to forage. They should ensure feedlot horses have sufficient feed space or the amount of feed space at any single location (rearrange the groups such that competition is minimized). From the footage provided, it is evident that there is minimum oversight at these feedlots. Horses must adapt to the conditions – high density, extreme hot and cold weather, little room to roam and exercise, high stress due to large herd hierarchy rivalry, little or no human interaction, minimal care and horse herd management.
5.4 – Health Management in the Feedlot
Health management and disinfection are particularly important in feedlots. Observation of feedlot conditions confirm that oversight is minimal at best. Sick and dead horses are observed.
Requirements specify that feedlot owners must establish and maintain a Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) with a practicing veterinarian. Realistically, how often are vets observing conditions on each feedlot (there are hundreds in Alberta alone, with horses numbering in the thousands). Based on the evidence provided, it is clear that horses are left on their own to survive in the extreme winter conditions they’re subjected to.
A written biosecurity and disease management plan must be in place and developed with a veterinarian. It appears that conditions are rudimentary at best at these feedlots. Water quality is poor. Manure is allowed to accumulate excessively. In some feedlots, it is mounded in large piles where horses reside.
Feedlot horses must be observed at least once a day for health and well-being. There may be daily feed rationing, but are these operators there to observe feedlot conditions as well? Sick and dead horses are observed for several days, with no one intervening.
Hospital pens must be available and must provide shelter, bedding, dryness, and a source of feed and water. Hospital pens must also be cleaned between uses. Nowhere is there evidence of such hospital pens in any vicinity close to these feedlots.
5.5 Pen Condition and Shelter
Mud management is especially important in the feedlot and can be a challenge, particularly during certain seasonal conditions (e.g. before winter freeze). It is certain that horses have to exist in whatever conditions arise in these massive, over-populated feedlots. How can it be possible to control the extreme weather conditions of a bitter cold winter, a muddy wet spring, or stifling hot summer? No matter how much bedding there is or how many drainage systems are built, there are challenges to maintain healthy living conditions at these feedlots. In a perfect world, horses would have to be moved every season to allow feedlots to recover from the environmental damage put on them by high-density housing of horses. Overhead shelters are non-existent at these feedlots, although the use of them is mentioned in the Codes. Protection from wind is also recommended. There are no provisions for such protections for feedlot horses. The requirements for stocking density are woefully inadequate, as they only mention that horses must have enough room to walk forward, turn around and lie down.
Section 4 – Health Management, 4.1 Health Management Plans
Veterinarian Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR). Under this section, it’s stated that horses must be observed as often as required to maintain their health and well-being. It’s required to establish a working relationship with a practicing veterinarian and have a VCPR.
In the case of feedlots, it’s a requirement to have a VCPR in place. When a dead foal is observed for several days to be undetected by feedlot operators or veterinarians, we have to question whether this health management requirement can possibly be implemented under these primitive conditions.
Section 4 – Health Management, 4.5 Body Condition Scoring (BCS)
Obesity in equines is most often caused by allowing animals to overfeed. Horses that are fat (BCS 8) and extremely fat (BCS 9) are prone to overheating in summer and experience strain to the legs and feet. Obesity also is a risk factor associated with laminitis.
Requirements under the Codes state that corrective action must be taken at BCS 3 or lower for underweight horses, or at BCS 8 or higher for obese horses. There is however an asterisk for feedlot horses. There is an exception for these horses, where they are allowed under the Codes to be obese as long as they are free from health conditions associated with obesity. How can this fine line be determined on these massive, under-regulated feedlots? We see horses that are suffering and dead, some likely due to overfeeding and obesity.
In reality, it is a best case scenario that most horses are managed under the rules set out by the Code of Practice. Feedlot horses, however, are not afforded these regulations, that really are only guidelines. In a 96-page Codes document, only 3 pages pertain to the management of horses housed on feedlots. This is simply unacceptable. At any given time, there are tens of thousands of horses on hundreds of feedlots in Canada, as well as Canadian-managed lots in the US. In a real world, the regulations set out by the Codes cannot be met. The video evidence proves this.
It is an impossible task to house horses humanely on such a large scale, under extreme Canadian and northern US weather conditions. If we are truly to meet the rules under Code of Practice, then we have to surmise that it’s impossible to meet such lofty conditions. There is no humane solution to housing horses on massive feedlots. The answer cannot be – they are only going to slaughter, so why should we care?
"I’ll be in touch tomorrow to donate to this important cause. How cruel and unnecessary Horse slaughter is. Modern society was built on the back of the working horse - and this is how we repay them. Classy."