Horses sold for a number of reasons, bought for different purposes

The preview event starts at 8:30 a.m. "And we'll show you the cutters, the barrel horses, the rope horses, the saddle-and-ride horses and you can make your own assessment. We don't broadcast it on the Internet. We want buyers to come here and see...

The preview event starts at 8:30 a.m. "And we'll show you the cutters, the barrel horses, the rope horses, the saddle-and-ride horses and you can make your own assessment. We don't broadcast it on the Internet. We want buyers to come here and see these horses."

Sellers show and demonstrate their own horses. The facilities include a wash rack, the arena and some individual covered stalls, and other amenities.

A seller gets to describe their horse in a catalog. "They might say, 'My daughter showed this horse in 4-H,' or 'We've roped on this horse and hauled it to rodeos,' or 'We raised this horse, it's 2 years old and we think it's a great prospect,'" Jann says. "They list the pedigree and if they think it's a 'grade' (nonpedigreed) horse, it's a grade horse."

The catalog closes on the 5th of each month. For the Oct. 26 and 27 sale, the catalog closing is Oct. 5. The staff gets the information on the Internet and compiles a catalog a week before the sale. The BLS Horse Sale encourages YouTube videos, which allow potential buyers to decide whether they want to go to Billings for a sale. Jann and Bill study what's coming in the sale and "don't ever turn our cellphones off -- ever," she says, emphatically.

Impact from closures


Horse sale values continue to be impacted by the closing of horse slaughter plants in September 2007. It coincided with a general U.S. economic slam. "The horse market spun as a result of that, and it has really, really affected the horse business. There's not a soul in the horse business it hasn't touched," Jann says.

There have been efforts to reopen horse processing facilities. Those run into opposition and red tape. The way Jann sees it, people on the East Coast are making decisions for people west of the Mississippi River.

Taking away choices for marketing has resulted in "far more thin horses" as owners are less able to feed them. There are far more horses turned out on public land, or otherwise abandoned, Jann says. While the Billings Livestock Horse Sale is in the business of increasing prices, it's a fact that today's best horses on average are bringing 35 cents a pound -- roughly a third of what they were before. Five years ago, there were 15 licenses to have horse sales in Montana, regulated both by the state and federal governments. Today there are about five left, Jann says.

"And what is beef bringing? $1.70?" she says.

Banning horse slaughter in the U.S. didn't change demand for horse meat, Jann says. It is the diet in Japan, Germany, France and Belgium, as well as countries in the former Soviet Union.

"There's still a demand for what we have. As a result, now it's going out of the country -- Canada and Mexico. People elsewhere eat it, it's cultural -- like the Scandinavians eating ... what's that smelly fish? Lutefisk! Bingo."

Mykel Taylor, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, in January 2013 published a market impact study of the closure of three U.S. slaughter facilities. Taylor and her associate, Elizabeth Sieverkropp, found that horses under $1,500 per head declined in value 12 to 16 percent after the end of U.S. slaughter. A Government Accountability Office study in 2011 showed a decline in price of 8.2 percent for animals of $1,400 per head to 23.5 percent for animals of $600 per head.

It has been technically possible to slaughter horses in the U.S. since November 2011, when the Federal Meat Inspection Agency 2005 amendment was reversed, allowing resumed federal inspection of the process. So far, no plants have opened.


Meat akin to lutefisk?

The majority of Montana region horse processing goes to Canada, she says. "Nobody's holding a gun to your head, making you sell them to process markets," she says. "We still need a viable place to go with the old, the sore and the horses that are no longer of use. We live in America. If you want to call your vet and have your horse put down, do it. But if you feel you want to sell your horse 'loose,' to let it go on and feed somebody, that should be your choice. Right now, they're going out of the country. And so are the jobs that go with them."

While there isn't U.S. Department of Agriculture supervision at processing plants these days, the horses bound for export are still governed by USDA for transport out of the country. Jann says it's time to restore U.S. processing.

"Call your senators," Jann says. "Call your representatives. It's up to us that still live here that have livestock and ag, and make their living from it. Even if you own a store at West Acres (the shopping mall in Fargo), it's still ag that's walking in there every day and spending their money. I know that because I'm from there. It's that grain farmer, that cattle rancher. It's the guy who lives in Valley City (N.D.) and comes to spend their money. We need you to call your senators, your representatives, and say we need domestic processing -- back in the United States, back under our control."

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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