You might know, you may not, but there is a terrible hay shortage in Ontario. The price of hay has tripled in most places and people are being forced to sell their livestock rather than continue to afford to feed them. It’s a sad economic reality.
Horses are being sent to auctions in droves. You would think that there would only be the old, lame or behavioural horses at an auction. Those who don’t sell to homes go to slaughter for meat. However the true picture of the auctions today are registered horses (thoroughbreds, quarter horses, paints, morgans, arabians, draft horses, etc.), shoes still on, sweat marks still visable on their coats from working, their “I love my horse” halters with hearts still on their heads. Young horses, weanlings, yearlings, some in batches that must represent an entire years stock.
These are the faces of the hay shortage. Terrified, lost, dumped in holding pens with other terrified horses. There’s a real risk of them being injured by kicks, slipping, bites, the longer they’re in the pens. Injury is a death sentence. No one will want them now. With winter in full swing, upper respiratory infections are now making the rounds as well. If one comes in sick, it makes the rounds. Often at lightening speed. No one wants them either. Even if it looks healthy, it’s a risk to take one home who might be a carrier, to infect your herd.
Then there’s the ‘auction rats’ as they’re called. Horses that look good and show well at the auction. They are purchased and sold at other auctions and are simply passed around. The stress on them grows with each new haul to a new location. The hope is that someone looking to buy a horse for their home will take them and pay top dollar. A profit of $50 or $100 is worth it if you have a trailer going from there to there anyway. Might as well load a horse to make back some of your operating costs.
There are some out west who have pulled together to send hay east, to farmers in desperate need. To those people, thank you. The grassroots effort dubbed “Hay East 2012”, these wonderful people have saved countless head of cattle, sheep and horses. They’ve probably saved some broken hearts as well.
Rescue groups are overwhelmed. There are last line of defense groups who try to pick out those who are worthy of saving from the feed lots and auctions directly. If they falter in any way, chances are they’re off to slaughter. It’s no fault of their own. It’s a losing battle for the most part. There’s always another truckload with more. However for those they save, it’s everything.
If you’re in the position to rescue a horse, pony, donkey or mule, even if it’s just to feed them over the winter and get them to the first cut of hay, please do. Too many are being lost.