Wild Horses: Rendering Plant Manager

Potential Solutions

RENDERING PLANT MANAGER INTERVIEW

 

The word "mustang" conjures up visions of horses running free in a rugged landscape. But the reality is not always so romantic. During the making of Wild Horses: an American Romance, Producer Christine Lesiak took her crew to a horse rendering plant in North Platte, Nebraska. The following interview with the manager of the plant does not appear in the program, but we offer it here as background to the dilemma. Most agree it's a last resort. Even "Jack", who manages the rendering plant, admits that wild horses are far from ideal for slaughter.

CHRISI want to start by asking, when you look at a horse, given your job, what do you see?
"JACK"Well, when I look at a horse, I see the value of the horse in an export market, in a dress meat market, in a retail market.
CHRISIs this particular horse a good example?
"JACK"That's a good example. That horse right there will make a hind-quarter, a full carcass. It's large enough. It's old enough. It's not overly fat. It's got a lot of muscle to it, and that'll bring a premium price.
CHRISYou know, most people look at a horse, and they see a pet; they see a beautiful animal; they see a practical animal perhaps, something to ride. They see a symbol of the old west. When you look at a horse, what do you see?
"JACK"Well, I see basically the same thing. But I see something else that is a commodity that you can get more money for. There is a use for the animal after its use as far as a pet, riding, and such as that.
CHRISWhat is one of these horses worth?
"JACK"That roan right there is worth probably around $700.
CHRISAnd what is the product when you're done with it?
"JACK"That one will be a full carcass. It'll be shipped four quarters. It won't be bone or there's no prime cuts or anything. That'll be sold as a carcass, after dressing. The other one back over here, that'll be probably just the hindquarter will be sold, and the front will be bone for a meat that goes into sausage. Then there's some of them that will be bone in the prime cuts, pretty much the same as beef. And they'll be sold that way
CHRISYou're talking how much a pound? If I sell you this horse, how much am I going to get per pound?
"JACK"You would get around 60, maybe up to 65 cents.
CHRISSixty-five cents a pound?
"JACK"That's for the top horses, yes.
CHRISAnd if I buy the meat, how much am I going to pay?
"JACK"If you buy the meat and you want to pay . . . it's about $1.30.
CHRIS$1.30 a pound?
"JACK"No, it's $1.30 for the whole carcass, is what you would pay here. That's not including, if it's exported, then you have freight, duties, freight over there, profit so.
CHRISNow, who are your customers?
"JACK"We're owned by a European firm. And they're . . . they're the customers. We sell to them.
CHRISOK. Now what country is that?
"JACK"Belgium.
CHRISOh, all right.
"JACK"All the plants in the United States are owned by Belgian firms, and they all deal strictly in horses.
CHRISSo, this meat is sold in grocery stores?
"JACK"And butcher shops. Mainly in France. France is the largest consumer. And it's mainly in butcher shops that strictly sell horsemeat. That's all they do, and then in the supermarkets.
CHRISWhy hasn't horsemeat caught on in this country, do you think?
"JACK"We don't eat our pets. In some other countries, they eat their pets. But we don't eat our pets. And with the other things we have, the beef, the pork, the poultry, lamb, we don't have to rely on horses for our red meat.
CHRISWhere have these particular horses come from?
"JACK"This one is a local one. They're all right here in Nebraska cause they're all singles. They're local, I'd say within 200 miles from here. I mean, if there was a large group of horses, it would have come maybe out of South Dakota, come out of Montana, Utah, Texas, Iowa.
CHRISSo, how do they end up here? I mean, what's the decision process? Why do these horses end up here, while the others are running free or being ridden or being used?
"JACK"There's something wrong with them. The owner wanted to get rid of them. Normally they're crippled. They're done with. Their usefulness is done.
CHRISSo, you get a phone call, and people bring their horses in. Do you reject some and accept others?
"JACK"Yes. Some of them we will not take. I won't take colts. I'd just as soon see them stay out in the country and be raised. And if they're too ill, we won't take them. We have a vet here, and he does an ante-mortum inspection, and if they're not good enough for slaughter, then they're put down, and they go to a rendering operation.
CHRISI see. Now, lately there's been a lot of controversy about mustangs, wild horses ending up in a plant like this. How have you seen that played out? Are people coming out to talk to you? Are you supposed to be aware of freeze brands? What is your philosophy?
"JACK"We have an agreement with the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] that if we get a horse that has a freeze band, it has to have a title. And if it doesn't have a title with it, it's still government property. It's still their horse, and so we have to contact the buyer that we buy it from to get the title. If he doesn't come up with the title, then the BLM is entitled to take that horse.
CHRISThat sounds like a hell of a lot of trouble.
"JACK"Well, it is, it is. And that's when people will maybe get one, and they don't bother to get a title, or they've got a title and don't bother to send it in, or they lose it, or something like that.
CHRISIt seems to me that given the kinds of wild horses that are out there that after a year of ownership, a lot of times it doesn't work out.
"JACK"Well, no, and a lot of it is just the horse itself. You can't do anything with them. But there are some that people get that they do make something out of. Then, eventually, along the line, something's going to go wrong. If they get old, they're going to get rid of it. But the majority of them that I've seen come in here are wild, and even if they've had them a year or two, they're still wild. They just can't do anything with them. They're just too spirited of a horse.
CHRISHow do you respond to the people who say you should never kill a horse, a wild horse?
"JACK"What else you going to do with them? I don't know. I don't know what else to do with them. They're gonna die anyway. So, this way they can at least sell them, and get some money out of em, and maybe go out and buy a regular bred horse.
CHRISWould there be a temptation for me to go and buy a whole bunch of wild horses, keep them for a year and sell them for meat? Is that good profit-making?
"JACK"That's been done. Years ago, when you adopt them for $25, and a lot of people had a large family, all the same last name, a lot of first names. But I think the restriction now is you can only adopt two.
CHRISBut that wouldn't be your first choice for your product anyway?
"JACK"Oh, no, no. I've never seen a wild horse make what you could classify as a good carcass. They're crossbred and interbred, and you can tell 'em when you dress one out. You can tell which one's a wild horse.
CHRISReally?
"JACK"Um hum. It's just like a mule. You can tell a mule.
CHRISNow, this is fascinating to me, because I've been trying to figure out, how do you tell? What clues do you have on a carcass that it's a wild horse?
"JACK"Just by the bone structure.
CHRISIn what way is it different?
"JACK"lt's . . . it's different. Just the shape of the bone, the shape of the backbone.
CHRISIs it sturdier?
"JACK"Oh I don't know if it's any sturdier, but you can definitely tell the difference in them. Just in the bone structure because of the all the past breeding. They have a totally different bone structure than, say, a nice quarter horse or an Arabian, something like that. And the same way with a mule or a burro. They all have a different type bone structure.
CHRISSo, the ideal horse for you is a quarterhorse?
"JACK"Quarterhorse. I prefer a quarterhorse over any other.
CHRISAnd I asked you earlier if you got racehorses.
"JACK"Occasionally, we'll get some thoroughbreds. They're just tall. Most of them are what we consider as regulars, as boning horses cause they're not large enough. That breed normally doesn't get as large as a quarterhorse.
CHRISWow. So, all in all, we do kill horses.
"JACK"Yes.
CHRISAnd it's OK.
"JACK"There is a market for them. And it does put money back in the agriculture community. And it's also a good export product.
CHRISDo you think we'll ever raise horses for food?
"JACK"No, no, no. They are too slow in developing. The demand is for an older horse, whereas cattle is about 15 to 18 months for fat cattle or a steer.
CHRISSo, a horse needs to be older and bigger,
"JACK"Yeah.
CHRISNow, these horses we see here have how much time left?
"JACK"Tomorrow. They'll be . . . they'll be processed tomorrow.
CHRISOK. It's not something I want to see.
"JACK"Stick around.
RALPH(Videographer) Can you buy horsemeat in the United States?
"JACK"No, not really. There's no retail market for it.
CHRISWell, meat markets can be created. We're now seeing buffalo meat.
"JACK"Well, of course. You know, if there were . . . if there was a domestic market for it and someone wanted it, we can sell it to them. I think there's some regulations that it can't be in the same case as the other meats. It has to be separately marked.
CHRISBut your plant gets horses from all over the country?
"JACK"Yes.

 


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