Frank Bowman, executive director of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois, reviews challenges facing those involved in the animal agriculture industry during the Land of Lincoln Purebred Livestock Breeder’s Association annual meeting.
Frank Bowman, executive director of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois, reviews challenges facing those involved in the animal agriculture industry during the Land of Lincoln Purebred Livestock Breeder’s Association annual meeting.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Land of Lincoln Purebred Livestock Breeder’s Association members were reminded to educate the public on animal production and help dispel the myths and misconceptions.

Horsemen’s Council of Illinois Executive Director Frank Bowman of Pleasant Plains said although agriculture is the state’s largest employer, more than 50 percent of the population lives in cities.

This disconnect will widen even more in the future, Bowman said, referring to a report that more than 70 percent of the population worldwide will reside in cities by 2050.

“We’re seeing an increase in the pressures from the urban environment, and the regulations that are being developed tend to lean a lot more in favor of urban thoughts and urban needs than those of the rural producers,” he said at the LLPLBA’s annual meeting.

“We all know that less than about 2 percent of the population is actually involved in agriculture from the standpoint of production, and we’re feeding 98 percent.

“As that population continues to increase in the urban environment, their perception of what we do — raising livestock, in particular — is going to become more important for us to have a voice in. We really need to educate.”

With the growing interest in local foods, Bowman said those involved in the efforts “have the best opportunity to influence thought with your customers by having them come out and showing them what you’re doing — whether you’re selling beef, cheese, lamb, poultry, any of the opportunities we have to connect to our consumers, farm-direct is really playing large.”

Bowman also has a beef broker’s license and brokers freezer beef to customers.

“They come out. We walk them around. We answer their questions. We want to be as transparent as possible, and that’s really important,” he said.

“Educating the youngsters is also important. The more involvement we can have with our consumers, the better the vision or the understanding of agriculture is going to be.

“Meats do not come wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. That’s the end of the process, and we need to show them the whole process from start to finish.”

Bowman also addressed the foreseeable problems with hay availability and feeding horses.

“With the drought, there are going to be a lot of hungry horses come springtime,” he said.

“I got involved in a brief conversation with a hay and forage grower recently on one of the social medias. They were putting out a request for consideration for cattle producers with gestating cows to consider feeding lesser quality hays or corn bales and selling the hay to the horse folks in their area. Boy, did that go south in a hurry?

“One of the biggest problems we have is horses are all things to all people. Half of our membership in the horse council looks at horses as more of a recreational animal, a pet, if you will. The other half is producers, and they raise horses as livestock and are considered livestock.

“One of the problems we have is while cattle producers have been able to depopulate their herds to accommodate for the lack of hay this year, we had that option pulled away from us back in 2007. We no longer have a mechanism to quickly depopulate our herds.”

Illinois lawmakers approved horse slaughter ban legislation in 2007.

“We can’t haul them to the slaughterhouse. The markets are gone. So we still have a tremendous number of horses in our world that we have to take care of,” Bowman said.

He added there are reports of an increased number of wild horses in the western states.

“That’s purely because people are just letting them loose. We’re seeing it here in our state parks. We’re seeing it all over in the forest preserves,” he said. “The rescues are a great thing, but they’re full. Animal control people won’t take horses for adoption or euthanasia.

“We’re up against a wall right now, and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to feed all of these hungry horses come springtime.

“We’re working with the Legislature, we’re working with the Department of Agriculture, we’re working with hay producers to try to forge some relationships, to try to get hay where it’s needed and create some reserves for people that might need some help due to financial difficulties or for other reasons. The hay is going to be a big problem this year.”

Another challenge facing horse enthusiasts are the changes taking place at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, particularly with the Horse Protection Act.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to show horses, particularly gaited horses because of the regulation and the perception that all of those horses are sored to make them do those high steps, to do this, to do that,” Bowman said.

“The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was at the Illinois State Fair this year doing inspections for violations of the Horse Protection Act. We’re going to see more and more of that.

“Some of the animal welfare/rights organizations that are now offering bounties if you will for people turning in folks who may be violating the Horse Protection Act. Again, it is the urban folks forcing their idea of livestock on the producers and on the exhibitors.

“Use every opportunity we can. Educate the public that we care about our animals, we take the best possible care of animals because it’s our livelihood, it’s what we do and we know it better than anybody else. We need a bigger seat at the table, and you need to take advantage of that across the board.”

Bowman also noted the recently approved regulations requiring at commercial driver’s license.

“If you are driving a (truck and trailer) with a gross weight in excess of 10,000 pounds and you’re going to an advertised event where you intend to win prize money or anything else of value, technically you need to have a commercial driver’s license,” he said.

“If you are hauling your livestock to market, you are exempt from that, but if you are going to an event where you intend to win prize money and it’s not just with in our case horses.

“It also includes racecar drivers, motorcycle driver, anybody who is going to the races to win prize money. If your combined vehicle is over 10,000 pounds, you better take a look at the regulations because they’re looking everywhere for revenue. We’ve been trying to educate our folks in the horse world about this.”