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I'm not one to be labeled an activist for animals. I'm less apt to marvel at the beauty of a wild deer than wonder if it's been grazing in my soybean field. And a baby white-faced calf frolicking in a green pasture brings to mind future steaks or a paycheck for my farmer brothers rather than the wonder of new life.
No, I'll never forgo steak or leather but I don't want to see any animal suffer, whether being cared for as a pet or raised for market and the dinner table.
The rescue of four horses last week from near Oriole, reported in a story on today's front page, may be a case headed to court, so I don't want to talk about it specifically, but I'm worried similar stories will be written in the weeks to come. Winter is here and the harshest season of the year will be extra hard on some horses and cattle already stressed by the summer drought.
The late-spring freeze cut the hay crop harvested by many farmers and the bizarre cold snap was followed, ironically, by a hot and dry summer. Not only did the lousy weather leave barns less than full of hay, it put the hurt on stock grazing pastures. And while farmers rolled up corn stalks after harvest, many small landowners with a couple of horses or a few cattle are in a pickle. Not only will they not have enough hay to last them until spring, but the hay market has dried up, just like the fields this summer. Those who sell hay most years have either already sold out or plan to feed it to their own animals.
Unlike cats and dogs, cattle and horses require some roughage in their diets, either hay or some substitute. But the heavy demand has pushed prices through the roof.
One friend said he paid $3 per square bale of straw, a price probably triple the usual cost. Some people simply can't afford those prices.
The majority of people who own horses and cattle would go hungry themselves before letting their animals suffer, but a few are either unable or unwilling to properly care for their animals.
Members of the county's humane society know there's trouble coming this winter and the victims will be the animals. A group of concerned folks calling themselves the Perry County Hoof Society want to help, but they need the cooperation of animal owners.
People worried about not having food to care for their livestock shouldn't wait until it's too late. Ask for help now. The county's humane-society chapter can be reached at 836-4138. If you think animals are being neglected, call police.
As winter sets in, there are, hopefully, people willing to sell hay for a fair price to those in real need. Others may know where hay or other foodstuffs can be found. Some farmers and conservation groups have already talked about ordering hay from areas that benefited from a normal growing season.
The important thing is not to wait until it's too late. If you need help, ask for it now.