Horses in Illinois being let loose
Friday, July 25, 2008

Illinois is no stranger to a problem that is unfolding across the
nation. With the price of just about everything on the rise these days,
many horse owners are facing tough times and often release their horse
or horses into the wild, hoping they can fend for themselves.

Dr. Colleen O’Keefe, manager of food safety and animal protection with
the Illinois Department of Agriculture, says there is a lot of concern
on the subject. “There will be damage to crop land, damage to the
environment because there will be no natural predators,” O’Keefe said.
“If they get in the road, you know, we all know people who have hit
deer. If you get a high enough population, we have enough roads that
eventually you’d be concerned that a horse would get hit. There could
even be a risk to hikers and things like that. Some of the horses are
fairly wild and are very territorial.”

O’Keefe says the Illinois Department of Agriculture has been working
with the Illinois Horse Council and the Illinois State Veterinary
Medical Association to find a solution to the problem. She says there
are several factors contributing to the number of wild horses including
the winter grain supply, which was at high prices and high demand. Gas
prices and the general economy are also to blame.

One heavily debated decision made last year may be partially to blame.
The closing of Cavel International, the horse slaughter plant in DeKalb,
has left some feeling that they have no option but to turn their horse
loose. Cavel slaughtered 40,000 to 60,000 horses annually, with most of
the meat shipped overseas. But O’Keefe doesn't believe the closing of
Cavel to be the biggest factor. She says the horse market had begun to
decline before Cavel was shuttered, leaving many to look for other ways
to get rid of unwanted horses.

O’Keefe points out that there are still horse slaughter plants in
operation in Canada , but with high fuel costs and falling horse prices,
many don’t see the option as feasible.

A hay directory for those looking to sell or buy hay is available
through the Illinois Department of Agricultures website at