Horse Meat for the Hungry

Western Canada’s horses, made jobless by tractors, are being slaughtered to feed the needy of Europe

MORLEY MURRAY February 1 1947

Horse Meat for the Hungry

Western Canada’s horses, made jobless by tractors, are being slaughtered to feed the needy of Europe

MORLEY MURRAY February 1 1947

Horse Meat for the Hungry


Western Canada’s horses, made jobless by tractors, are being slaughtered to feed the needy of Europe

PICKLED IN brine and packaged in green and white tins labelled “horse meat and gravy” about 75,000 horses are going from western Canada this year to feed Europe’s hungry.

Canada long has used horse meat as feed on fox farms. This meat was from old and decrepit animals.

But these Saskatchewan horses now being slaughtered are as fine as any raised on the continent. Mostly young, they are well-fleshed, and average 1,200 pounds each. They come from all parts of the province and in all colors—v.’hite, cream, sorrel, piebald, chestnut, bay, brown and midnight black.

Some are broken to harness and saddle; others are wild from the range—where more than 20,000 3till roam in herds.

The farm horse has a big appetite, and a big appetite, especially in winter, is a burden. If he is from the range, he consumes fodder that would be available for some more productive beast.

Saskatchewan’s horse population, by far the largest in Canada, is estimated at well over 800,000, and of these at least half a million serve no useful purpose. The tractor, which does seven times the work of a team of two horses and when idle has neither to be fed nor bedded down, seems to have won a victory. Furthermore the world is hungry— and the clean-eating horse furnishes first-class meat.

It was these facts which launched the horseslaughtering scheme.

Belgium signed a contract for 10,000 tons of pickled horse meat, at $500 a ton, with delivery to be completed during the year 1947. That is 20 million pounds of horse at 25 cents a pound— or $5 millions.

It sounded like a good deal to 600 Saskatchewan livestock producers who persuaded the Provincial Government and the banks to back their plans for a horse-processing plant. A disused powerhouse on the outskirts of Swift Current, Sask., was enlarged and early in 1946 the “Horse Co-Operative Marketing Association, Ltd.” was formed. There is a second co-operative plant in Edmonton.

Then the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration signed up for 10 million pounds of canned horse meat at around 11 cents per 12ounce tin. Markets were found for hones, hoofs, hides, entrails and blood. The tails, which are used to stiffen coat lapels among other things, bring good prices. The Belgians get these too.

This is what happens in the process of taking a from prairie to plate at the Swift Current plant. The animals, from barns, fields or the big ranges, are brought to the 300 acres of pasture and corrals which surround the plant. Every horse carries a distinctive, recognizable mark of ownership. On arrival the best are checked, weighed, inspected and graded.

White Horses Grade Lower

THE GOVERNMENT license has strict health clauses and a resident examiner sees that its provisions are carried out to the letter. But since the horse is one of the healthiest of animals, scarcely six in a thousand are turned down. At first some ancient hacks appeared, but shippers soon learned that this was a waste of time and money after they paid the shipping charges, 25 cents per hundred pounds, they got nothing for the horse.

The Association’s wants are set forth:

“Mares or geldings of two years of age and up will be accepted.

“No stallions are to be shipped to the plants.

“White horses, mares in foal, and a month after foaling, are in a lower grade.

“Tails and manes must not be trimmed before shipping, otherwise a deduction will be made.”

Mares about to foal are kept apart until the colt is born. In these rare cases, the foal is destroyed and the mare is processed a few weeks later.

White horses grade lower, because they have from a dozen to a hundred black glands, connected with pigmentation, imbedded in their flesh. The meat is not affected in any way but for appearance’s siike each gland has to be cut out.

Stallions are safe from slaughter. Their meat tastes strong and is unpalatable.

Once admitted, a horse is turned loose in a 50acre field leading to a series of corrals. Cowboys drive it into the first of*the pens, then through these to a 100-yard ramp which leads to the second floor of the factory.

There is no return, Continued on page 33

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Horse Meat for the Hungry

Continued from page 19

because production requires the life of a horse every four or five minutes throughout the eight-hour day. Nevertheless, if a horse had the power of reason, it soon would see that if it stayed cannily away from the entrance to the corrals, it could live indefinitely in the big arrival field.

The horse is driven up a ramp to a specially constructed chamber where it is shot. The shooting is done with a .22 rifle in the hands of a young war veteran who never misses, never has had to use a second bullet.

The carcass is then cleaned, swung up on a hook and given the same treatment that cattle receive along the assembly lines of beef packing houses.

After the sides are trimmed and washed the meat is propelled along a wheeled track, close to the ceiling, to a big refrigerating room. During a recent visit to the Swift Current plant, I timed one complete operation. It took four minutes.

I asked one of the workers, “What do you think of all this?” He grinned and replied easily, “It’s a job.” And, after a pause, “I guess they need the food pretty bad over there, too.”

Boning a horse is a big operation. The skeleton is heavy and the bones are large. A dozen skilled butchers

A Matter of Paper

Continuing world shortages have greatly affected deliveries of the type of paper this publication normally uses.

The mills are doing their best, but are unable to supply us with enough paper of uniformly high grade.

We, «too, are doing our best.

Should your copy of Maclean’s contain -paper not as good as usual, it is because that is the only way in which the publishers can maintain full service to -the largest possible number of readers.

And if for the same, reason your copy is late in -reaching you, we ask your indulgence.

cut off every ounce of the horse’s yellow, unpalatable fat. Then the carcass i*s chunked, the best cuts—of from four to 25 pounds each—are pickled for Belgium, the-second best is for UNRRA and Poland and the remainder goes to Canada’s fox and mink farms.

With Tomato Sauce

The pickling operation consists of soaking the meat for 10 days in brine. After draining, it is packed in barrels which hold up to 500 pounds each for shipment to Belgium. On arrival, t he meat is smoked before it is sold over the counter. In this form it is both

delicious and expensive. The selling price varies from 40 to 60 cents a pound.

UNRRA receives tinned horse meat only. As a carcass is boned, the small, choice pieces -of which there are hundreds—are routed to the mincer for canning. The label on these tins reads “Horse Meat and Gravy,” and the “gravy” consists of a spicy, tasty sauce with a tomato base.

After the meat is ground the sauce is stirred in by machine, and the meat passed along an “assembly line” where women workers, spotlessly rigged out in white, pack it into cans by hand. It is cooked in the tin, slowly and carefully; labelled and boxed. UNRRA has used much of it for Poland, but every part of hungry Europe gets its share.

In Swift Current the whole horse is used, and the business impressed me as one in which there is a heavy percentage of profit. The maximum price paid to the farmer or livestock dealer is two cents per pound, on the hoof, for “good, fleshy horses.”

Patronage Dividends

The minimum price received for the meat is around 4.5 cents per pound for lesser cuts used as animal fodder. This jumps to 11 cents for tinned horse meat and 25 cents a pound for the pickled choice chunks.

A horse has from 450 to 600 pounds of saleable flesh, and even the blood, bones and entrails fetch something as fertilizer.

Every shipper automatically becomes a shareholder and profits according to the amount of business he does each year with the co-operative plant. Ahead is a 10-year supply of horseflesh in Saskatchewan alone at the maximum rate of slaughter of 35,000 to 50,000 animals per year.

The factory has been constructed at small expense and it can be converted into a regular meat-packing plant if and when horses are no longer available.

The following sample of the selfexplanatory statement furnished to shippers gives a fair outline of the foundation on which the business is based:

1 Horse, weight 1,200 lb., top

grade at 2c. per lb.......... $24


ForShares@ $1 per horse. .$ 1.00

Reserve Fund @ $3 per

horse, placed to the credit

of shareholder at 4 }4%

interest .................$ 3.00

Freight Rate @ 32c. per ewt.

(,07c. absorbed by the Co-operative)............$ 3.00

Other charges, (feed, yardage) if any................... ?

$ 7.00


Initial payment by cheque

to shareholder...........$ 17.00

Share Certificate, par value $ 1.00 Reserve Fund @ 4 }-•>%

interest................ $ 3.00

Final payment in the form of patronage dividend for those delivering horses......... ?

$ 21.00

After payment for horses, according to the association by-laws, “further provision is made for the allocation

of all earnings in excess of expenses to be returned to producers who ship horses, in the form of patronage dividends . . . This is in accordance with the co-operative principle of returns according to use, after a fair rental has been paid for capital.”

The Provincial Government guaranteed $50,000, the hank loaned $50,000 and the members of the Co-op pledged another $100,000. On the basis of contracts alone, the proposition appears to be sure-fire.

To some animal lovers the prospect of eating a horse, one of man’s traditional four-footed pals, is akin to cannibalism. Once you get over the feeling that you’re dining on a friend the meat is very palatable.

I took a can of the meat home and tried it recently. It was good— extremely good. We prepared it by rolling it in flour and frying the meat.

It was easy to see what a boon it would be to famished people abroad.

There is no law against eating horse meat, nor is it anything new. It always has been a staple food abroad and many a European cave is piled high with the bones of horses of prehistoric times. Horses by the million once roamed North and South America, then all of them passed from the scene for ages until reintroduced by the Spaniards 400 years ago.

Now they are back to the 100 million mark — 3 million in Canada alone—but their future is not bright. Though applications to open horse meat shops have been received in some of the bigger cities it is not, at present prices, economical to raise horses for food.

Under the pressure of machine competition, the horse may become a show piece—a glory of days gone by. it