Oklahoma horse slaughter bill author denies financial motivation

Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, said she proposed House Bill 1999 to help the horse livestock economy and open up an outlet for people to dispose of their horses. Critics, however, call it a conflict of interest meant to boost finances at her grandparent's horse auction, the largest in the state.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: March 18, 2013
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Terry Crawford, legion executive officer for the Oklahoma Livestock Marketing Association, said the slaughter house closures meant higher freight costs to ship horses abroad.

Prices for horses sold at Oklahoma auctions subsequently were reduced to 30 cents per pound from as high as a dollar per pound previously, Crawford said.

Effect on auctions

Sloan Varner, McNiel's brother and an auctioneer at Mid America, the largest horse auction in the state, estimated as many as two-thirds of the 5,000 horses sold there in a typical year are sent to slaughter houses.

But the family has no way of knowing for sure what happens to the horses they sell, Varner said.

“It's not our business what they do with them,” he said. “All of the guys that buy slaughter horses also buy riding horses, and sometimes they buy horses intended for slaughter that they go out and fool with and sell back to somebody who intends to ride.”

Varner said a horse sold at Mid America today fetches about 25 cents per pound — or about $250 for an average 1,000-pound horse — compared to about 80 cents per pound before the 2007 slaughter house closures.

The company collects a 6 percent commission on each horse sold, he said.

If 5,000 horses are auctioned in a year, weighing an average of 1,000 pounds, Mid America could expect to collect about $75,000 in annual commissions on horse sales.

Were prices to increase under McNiel's legislation to pre-2007 days, the company could make as much as $240,000 commission on horse sales in a year's time.

If a slaughter house opened in Oklahoma, those numbers likely would be substantially higher.

Legislator's interest

McNiel said neither she nor her husband has any ownership stake in Mid America, nor do they intend to.

She said she worked full-time at the auction house until she was about six months' pregnant with her oldest daughter, now 10, but now only checks in horses during auctions every other Monday night and serves food in the cafeteria on Fridays.

McNiel said her experiences in livestock auctioning give her a firsthand understanding of the issues faced by those who work in the industry.

“I see the problem of the abused, abandoned, starved horses, and I see what it does when our sheriff has to pick up those horses and quarantine for 30 and 60 days — it's taxpayer dollars,” she said.

“And I see when people have nowhere to go with their horses but just to turn them out or cut fences and put them into somebody else's pastures. I understand this issue maybe more than anybody else.”