By Alex Brown
A visit to a kill auction. I arrived at about 11:45 am, as usual. It is a one-hour drive from the Woodbine racetrack near Toronto, Canada, where I work in the mornings galloping horses for trainer Steve Asmussen. I parked in the back, among the stock trailers. I entered the drafty building and walked along the overhead walkway with all the horses in pens beneath me. There were about 75 horses today. Some were in large pens that hold 10 or 12. Some were in smaller pens. Some with halters. Some without. All standing there, a little perplexed no doubt, regarding their new circumstances.
I then went into the auction area and settled in. A small crowd started gathering. Lots of chatter. The most active kill buyer was present. He always is. And he is surrounded by the usual assortment of “hangers on”. At about 12:25 p.m., the auctioneer took his position, along with his clerk. His clerk was the only young female in the room barring a small child who was bouncing on her woolly toy horse on the front row. The crowd had thickened considerably. The room was essentially filled with old guys. A couple of older women. Amish, local farmers, horse traders and just those out for their weekly catch-up on gossip.
The first horse came in. Loose and herded in by a couple of handlers as is most common here. And within less than 30 seconds he was sold for 37 cents / pound. A Quarter horse/Paint. It was not the main kill buyer who made the purchase. It was buyer number 120. The main kill buyer was the underbidder. I was relieved, but the relief was very short lived. It soon became apparent that buyer 120 was simply another kill buyer, just not one of the regular kill buyers that attends this auction. He bought the most horses and was bidding on the same horses as the main kill buyer. He bought a horse with a broken jaw that was labeled as “meat only” by the auctioneer.
Another horse, labeled “meat only,” was also advertised as “drug free” by the auctioneer. It puzzled me why the auctioneer singled this horse out for this additional piece of information, and not the other horses selling for meat. While the majority of horses are sold by the pound, a few are sold by the dollar. They are more likely to sell privately. Even for these horses, the auctioneer is quick to point out that the weight of the horse is available on the board display above his booth. Just in case.
The auctioneer is in his element. He is good at what he does, carries a light banter through the quick sales, and relishes the competition between the two kill buyers.
Buyer 120 bought 31 horses. His top price was 46 cents / pound for a nice buckskin mare. He went as low as 18 cents / pound for a pretty poor looking horse. The main kill buyer bought 23 horses. His high price was 40 cents / pound. He went as low as 23 cents / pound, twice. Both were bidding against each other on the majority of horses that went through the sale. Between the two buyers they bought two-thirds of the horses available. A few horses went to private buyers. And a few went to horse traders who will look to see if they can turn them around quickly for profit. And if not, they will likely be back.
A skinny albino horse went through the ring. Neither of the kill buyers bid. A weedy-looking 2-year-old Standardbred filly. The same. The latter was sold for 16 cents / pound as the auctioneer rattled on about how she might be good enough to race. They did not fit the criteria sought by the kill buyers. Not qualified for slaughter. They weren't meaty enough or big enough.
As the auction ends — “that's all she wrote” from the auctioneer — the remaining crowd filters out. The two main buyers hang around, surrounded by those who surround kill buyers. Arrangements regarding shipping take place. I walk back through the “overpass” with the pens underneath. Horses are getting moved and sorted. The sad, brutal last leg of their journey through life awaiting. And for them, it cannot go quickly enough.
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