– Abandoned and starving to death: Hundreds of skeletal horses left to die after worst ever drought ravages crops in Texas (Daily Mail, Dec. 5, 2011):
* Horses being sold for as little as $50 at auction
These are the distressing images of horses left by the side of the road after a year-long drought meant their owners could no longer afford to feed them.
After a year without rain in Texas, coupled with rocketing temperatures, crops have been sparse and the price of a bale of hay has doubled.
The effect on the horse population has been devastating. The number of animals being abandoned is ten times greater than in previous years, according to Richard Fincher of Safe Haven Equine Rescue in Gilmer, in east Texas.
Mr Fincher said: ‘We get 20 to 40 calls a week that horses are alongside the road and left; nobody’s claimed them. Sheriffs are calling us all the time.’
The problem, according to Dennis Sigler, a horse specialist at Texas A&M University in College Station, is that the drought has dried up the hay fields.
Mr Sigler told Reuters: ‘The price of hay and feed today is at levels we have never experienced before because of the drought.
‘In addition to that, pastures are short, and folks who have horses on pasture have no grass for their horses. There is just no market for horses this year.’
He said there are around 1 million horses in Texas and valued the industry at $5.3 billion.
It costs between $150 to $200 a month in normal times to feed a horse. However with hay prices rocketing, many more people find horses are a luxury they cannot afford.
At auctions, even horses in good condition are fetching as little as $50. In some cases, people have been giving their animals away.
The drought has also forced Texas ranchers to sell cattle, leaving them with horses that are no longer needed to round up herds.
It has been estimated that the drought has cost Texas $5.2 billion in agricultural losses.
Mr Sigler added: ‘They’re just hurting. The economy and the drought has got them in a crisis.’
Texas ranchers have been buying hay from as far away as Oregon and Idaho – but supplies in these states are also beginning to run low.
The situation is even worse for donkeys as livestock sales typically will not accept the animal. Mark Meyers of the California-based Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue said abandonment has reached epidemic proportions due to the drought. He said almost all of the group’s efforts are now focused on Texas.
Mr Meyers said: ‘We get almost one new abandonment case in Texas every day. And that could be between one donkey and twenty donkeys abandoned at a time.’
Horse abandonment is a crime, and state law requires abandoned horses to be held by the local sheriff’s department for 18 days. After that, most are sold at a sale barn for whatever prices they can bring.