Sunday, February 19, 2012
Tough times for horse market
The Canadian horse market isn’t in free fall, but equine owners north of the border are definitely feeling the sting from what’s happening in the U.S. as they deal with rising costs and lower prices for their equine stock.
“Everything is not hunky dory,” said Bill desBarres, chairman of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada (HWAC). “We need to be constantly aware that a balance of product in our marketplace is critical. As the cost of inflation goes up, the cost of keeping horses goes up.”
In 2007, the U.S. federal government banned funding for all regulatory inspections of horse meat plants, effectively forcing their closure. As a result, 138,000 horses were transferred to Canada and Mexico in 2010 — nearly the same number of horses slaughtered in America prior to the ban, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
More than 65% — 59,933 — of the 89,160 horses slaughtered in Canada in 2011 were shipped from the U.S.
“Because there are so many of them, it lowers the price of (slaughter) horses,” desBarres said. “Because of the supply, there’s less demand.”
According to the most recent 2010 Canadian Horse Industry Profile Study published by Equine Canada last year, the impact of the inspection ban, as well as the recession, caused market sale prices to drop for horses.
Prices for horses sold for meat production have fallen below the $300 per animal with $75 a more likely scenario at auctions.
“Canada’s major export market for high-performance or pedigree horses was the U.S. and that market depressed as well,” said Vel Evans, the author of the Equine Canada study. “The number of U.S. horses going into Canada is a problem for the Canadian industry. It’s devaluing the prices of Canadian horses at the lower-end of market.
“If you can buy a (slaughter) horse for $300 and someone can purchase a horse for that price instead of $1,500 ... the reality is purchasing a horse to ride for less than $500 is not covering the cost for the breeder to have produced that horse.”
In the U.S., because many horse owners can’t afford basic upkeep of the animals, classified ads have been surfacing advertising horses for free on a permanent or leased basis.
“As a result, because of the lack of demand, some people are turning their horses loose in the United States,” desBarres said. “I don’t have any record of that happening in Canada ... Horses (set free) were damaging the properties and taking away food from other wildlife. It’s a pretty tenuous situation.”
Also, costs to keep horses in Canada have increased significantly over the past decade, according to Equine Canada. The average annual cost of keeping horse was $2,700 in 2010, compared to $1,500 in 2003. The increase can be blamed on rising costs of hay, feed, and higher expenditures on veterinarian care, hoof maintenance and horse therapy services.
Shelley Thomson, who runs a farm in the village of Oil Springs — about 30 kilometres southwest of Sarnia — said she has been forced to sell horses for a lot less than in the past.
“Normally, we would have gotten $1,500, but we took $600,” said Thomson, who also heads the Mid-western Ontario Horseman’s Society. “The slaughter (closures) have caused it, when disabled animals went to the slaughter it meant people wouldn’t have to keep feeding them. So now, people have to keep feeding horses that have no purpose and that would’ve gone for meat.”
Other groups in the Ontario horse industry are downplaying the impact of the U.S. economic downturn.
“There are always horses people are looking for homes for, regardless of slaughter or not,” said Dianne Graham of the Ontario Equestrian Federation. “Ontario is a viable and healthy horse industry. We have over 300,000 horses living in the province and (our membership) is increasing by 5% each year.”
Bill Simmons — who runs horse auctions in Claremont, near Stouffville — said people who might have purchased their horses years ago at inflated prices want a hefty return.
“They feel that they’re going to sell their horse for $10,000 and they can’t get it sold so therefore the horse market is terrible,” he said. “The fact of the matter is they don’t have a $10,000 horse. In reality, it was probably a $6,000 horse and if they had priced it that way, it would’ve sold.”
The Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association said racetracks have suffered because of competition from other sporting events and entertainment attractions.
“So from that point of view, the equine industry has been hit, but I wouldn’t say that it’s not a somewhat healthy industry right now,” said association president Sue Leslie. “The last three years, there have been heightened awareness of the afterlife of race horses. It is a top priority of the racing industry to make sure they have a dignified quality retirement.”
Nelson Bilyea, who runs one of the biggest sales of saddle horses in Ontario, said buying has slowed in the past few years.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about this,” added Bilyea. “Everything in this horse business has gotten higher, except for the prices of horses, which have gotten lower. Last week, I had a horse given to me. If you have a specific horse that someone’s looking for, it’s worth some money. If it isn’t, it ain’t worth nothing to nobody.”
The influx of U.S. horses for slaughter is concerning to animal activist groups.
“Horses have been crossing the border from the United States and that’s about 50% of the horses in Canada today,” said Sinikka Crosland of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition. “A big part of problems in the horse industry is overbreeding. What we’re seeing a lot of are quarter horses going down the slaughter pipeline.”
There are four abattoirs in Canada — two in Alberta and two in Quebec — that process horse meat in Canada.
In 2010, 66,168 horses were imported from the U.S. for processing and feeder purposes, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.