The owners of a corral in Scott County where more than 50 wild horses were reported to have died last week have denied that any wrongdoing on their part could have led to the incident. Since then the number of reported horse deaths has risen to 75.
After investigations at the facility, located East of U.S. Highway 83 on Road 70 in Scott County, findings by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) indicate the main reason the mostly older horses died was the stress they suffered after being moved from their original pasture to the corral. Their feeding and crowding issues also were considered as factors.
Some of the horses at the corral, managed by Beef Belt LLC, were found down and were euthanized because it was determined they could not get back up, according to Paul McGuire, BLM’s public affairs specialist.
“It is also true that the horses could have been affected by the food mix, as well as the quantity of the feeds,” McGuire said.
The Bureau of Land Management reported last week that it had started investigating a case in which 57 wild horses died at a corral in Scott County, Kansas.
Reports indicated the horses were transferred from a range managed by the BLM because an open-pasture contractor had reported he would not be taking on all the 47,300 horses that he had previously been managing. The Bureau then sought another place where the 1,900 animals (1,500 mares and 400 geldings) could go, as they had to leave by June 1, 2014.
The manager of the corral, Steven Landgraf, one of the owners of Lakin Feed Yard, which specializes in corrals just like the one in Scott County, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the staff at the corral.
“We did our best to take care of them. It is not like we did not do our job,” Landgraf said. “As animals get older, they die. The animals that have died have all been between 19 and 20 years old. It is a fact of life; how do you say this without being cruel?”
Landgraf explained further that the organization has cows and buffaloes that die there frequently.
“It is normal to have 4 percent or 5 percent of deaths with cattle, so this does not really count as out of the ordinary,” he said. “There were 1,490 of them that came in, and, if these few died, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.”
Five more horses died between Saturday and Monday. Four of them were euthanized, according to the BLM.
“I have a cow herd. When the cattle get to be this old, we sell them so they can be turned into hamburger. That’s not the way with horses; we can only take care of them. If they are old, they naturally succumb to nature,” Landgraf said.
According to McGuire, it is part of the contractual arrangement that if there are deaths on these private holdings, they must be reported immediately.
“I always report to customers because I am accountable every day,” Landfgraf said. “I don’t treat these animals any different from my father’s animals, which are on this land.”
BLM officials say they responded immediately when reports of the horse deaths were made. The ensuing investigation informed their decision to leave the animals at the corral, but adjustments were made in their care.
“There were basically three principle causes: one is that these animals are older; anywhere from 15 to 20 years. Because of that, they didn’t endure the stress of the move quite well. When they arrived here, the environment was very different because they had to learn how to feed from the bunks. Some of the less dominant horses succumbed to the stress,” McGuire said.
Though the bureau insists stress was the main cause of the deaths, they introduced significant changes in the feeding regime at the corral, pointing to this as another notable probable cause.
“We have asked the operator to increase the quantity of feeds from 18-20 pounds a day to 26 to 28 per day. We also asked them to increase the energy density of the feeds. The mixture of grass and alfalfa is now balanced in favor of alfalfa,” McGuire said.
BLM has never had to move such a large number of animals, McGuire said.
“This case is unique because these animals were taken off of a pasture where they’d been living. BLM has never moved such a large number of older horses to a feedlot from a pasture situation. This is kind of a first for the agency,” he said.
The animals were moved to the corral in the course of one week. BLM’s representative says the move included 200 animals per day.
“We had to move the horses immediately. It was an unavoidable situation that we had to respond to,” McGuire said.
According to McGuire, the last horse arrived at the corral June 22. The contractor received a monthly report at the end of June. At that time, the report indicated only about three deaths, which did not alarm BLM. The next report came at the end of July, and BLM noticed a spike in the number of deaths. That was on Aug. 5.
“It seems the measures we have taken so far have achieved what we intended: to get the horses stabilized. The deaths have tapered off, and the horses have a very healthy appearance and seem to be doing quite well,” McGuire said.
BLM also advised the contractor to spread the horses out to more lots so that they are not crowded in one as they were initially, according to McGuire.
Joseph Stratton, who works with the Washington office of BLM and is charged with technical matters of these operations, put the matter in context: “Sometimes, no matter what you feed these animals, when they are stressed, their bodies will not accept the feed. They retreat metabolically instead. Sometimes the bacteria in the horse’s stomach cannot process the new feed, which is different from the pasture. They could eat and still be thin.”
According to Stratton, the horses feed three times a day starting at 6:30 a.m., with this first feeding lasting an hour to an hour and a half, since there are 28 pens. At 10 or 11 a.m., they come back for another feed. In the afternoon, about 2 to 3 p.m., they come back for another.
“Before everybody goes home, they go back and pick up what the horses have dropped and throw it right back into the bunk, so there is no waste,” Stratton said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the name of the company that manages the corral. The company is Beef Belt LLC.