Horse News

Deaths of 19 Wild Horses Blamed on Toxic Milkweed

English: Wild horses run through Tule Valley, ...

English: Wild horses run through Tule Valley, Utah. Notch Peak and the House Range in background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

as published in the DVM360.com

Preliminary laboratory tests indicate that contaminated hay is the culprit

The ingestion of the highly toxic plant whorled milkweed is suspected to have caused the death of 19 horses at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) facility in Canon City, Colo., according to preliminary laboratory results released by the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Colorado State University. University pathologists are assisting the BLM, along with local, state and federal veterinarians, to determine the reason for the deaths.

The BLM reports that in early December, 19 horses died and nine other horses displayed clinical signs of neurological disease, including weakness, incoordination and seizures. Since then, several horses have exhibited similar symptoms but are showing signs of improvement and are expected to make a full recovery. It is believed that the illness was confined to 110 horses housed in one pen, although horses in adjacent pens are being monitored until final laboratory results are available.

Tests for infectious diseases, including equine herpesvirus, rabies and West Nile virus, have yielded negative results, so animal health officials no longer consider contagious disease a primary cause of the deaths. However, investigations continue and will include sample analyses from necropsy tissue of the affected animals.

The WHIP facility houses approximately 2,000 horses and 400 burros, all of which consume approximately 25 tons of hay daily. The hay is delivered in 1,000- to 2,000-lb bales, and the BLM reports that even a small amount of milkweed in the bales can cause serious illness in horses, as suggested by this incident. As such, the facility is keeping samples of the toxic plant to educate staff and feed crews and will no longer accept hay harvested from suspicious areas, such as the edges of fields, roadsides and consistently wet lands.

38 replies »

  1. Amazing………let me guess….is the crappier hay harvested, ‘cheaper’? Probably…., sounds like something the government is good at. Give the ‘job’ to the lowest bidder. C’mon BLM, lives are at stake here!

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  2. one example to the BLM , Leave our Mustangs alone, you have no IDEA, what they are doing!!!!!! 19 horses again die for nothing but incompetence…………………. Their greed has caused and is responsible for the untimely deaths of the Mustangs……………. How many times does it have to be said before it is understood??????? and corrected/////////

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  3. These so called experts are feeding hay that is cut from the side of the road? And they say that the horses are better off in their care? So now what will they pull next? I suppose this was the horses fault too… Garbage in garbage out.

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  4. I’m not a hay farmer, but word is that milkweed in hay indicates sloppy cultivation. Hay must be kept strong to keep out opportunistic plants like milkweed. Wonder if this government contract went to a quick and dirty grower equivalent of Sun J

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  5. My guess (isn’t it all done by guess?) is , that if the horses were left on the range–like not captured and put in jail– they would naturally and intinctively select and eat only those plants that are non-toxic. The animals would avoid the milkweed and other poisonous plants. Just another case of BLM running a lethal stockyard. Or perhaps it was a pre-existing condition? My science is as good as theirs–and no horses have died in my care.

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    • I was looking for the purveyor and the hay quality expert…like DOI will really prosecute anyone….or name them.

      But you asked the most relevant question, gg…I would add…so they have people feeding hay that cannot identify poisonous grasses (ergo, mold etc)? Hmmmmm….and DOI claims they are protecting wild equines. Bull$hit!

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      • From my personal observations – BLM does not do the feeding. The persons that feed are contracted either with the the hay purchase or contracted separately. My guess is that the prisoners do the feeding at Canon City. So, the questions are … do they know and do they care? Either way, the horses are dead.

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      • Looks like DOI is using science to destroy wild horses rather than to save them. Can you imagine a private boarding facility buying bad hay and feeling it to their horses resulting in a law suit over the wrongful deaths of 19 horses? Heads would roll and green blood would be spilt.

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      • I realize that BLM is not actually performing the feeding…my point was that they pay for it and other necessary care of these protected species and are ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING….AND, AND….they are required to monitor and enforce contracts via the Federal Acquisition Regulation and subagency FARs…DOI has their own that supplements the Fed FAR.

        My point? They are not following their own regulations and I hope some advocate org will FOIA and sue the pants of these killers.

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  6. hi.you know i was just reading something yesterday about people planting plants in nevada yesterday..i guess it was a few years back..roadside..forgot the plant i think was sage.but im sure certain kinds of plants effects them while same plant other variations dont.i love your letters and insight.i follow u n a few ladys on this site.very smart cookies u gyes are.thanks.by the way blm dose alot of stuff for the land animals and this n other contrys that is good so readers just know good comes with bad n vise versa.there not all bad.peace.julea

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  7. We are formulating a Class Action suit against BLM that encompasses all their violations for the last year.
    Anyone wanting to join who has evidence of their cruel criminal ways please contact me at 831-644-6160. We file in two weeks ,one on one ,so the judges can’t skirit the issue any longer.Concrete evidence with videos, records are crucial.

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  8. I have Milkweed on my property. It is very good for Bees and Butterflies. My horses don’t eat it because I supply them with enough prime hay to keep them from being hungry enough to eat a plant that they instinctually know is harmful. This is surely a case of mismanagement.

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  9. If those horses were left in their natural environment they probably would not have eaten the milkweed. The people responsible for purchasing that hay need to go back to the seller and find out where it was grown.

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    • Horses don’t eat milkweed. My cynic instincts tell me they bought the cheapest hay available making sure it has plenty of milkweed. Guess why they would do that…

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    • Not sure – but I don’t see any BLM hay buying contracts for Colorado (fedbizops.org) so they probably grow it themselves at the prison? From experience, we know that nobody will take the blame but yet the horses are dead – and suffered while dying.

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    • That makes too much sense. These’s no common sense allowed when it comes to caring fo the horses. I agree with you but that won’t ever happen. The BLM really does not care.

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  10. I’m sure they use round bales – which probably is more economical for that number of horses. But hard to tell whats INSIDE those bales! The farm where I used to board switched to round bales & I had to pull my horse out off the pasture because he had some kind of allergic respiratory reaction to them. And I’m sure THAT hay wasnt the best. I agree, the BLM probably doesnt look for the best – probably the cheapest.

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    • To learn about BLM contracts – hay or otherwise – go to fbo.gov (fedbizops) in the solicitation box type in (as an example) L13PS00068 which will take you to a solicitation for hay at Palomino Valley holding facility.

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    • Several years ago, I read that the BLM was required to feed horses in holding high quality alfalfa, and that was the reason so many horses just captured got sick on rich hay after roundups.

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  11. These BLM wild horse and burro “specialists” are not so special. They probably bought cheap “cow hay”. I had 2 mustangs that foundered from hay I bought from a hay farm I regularly bought from for years, there was a weed all through it, AZ dept of Ag came and took samples and went to the farm too. I thought it was groundsel which looks like dandelion. Driving along the hay fields I could see big patches of it growing out in the hay here and there, not roadside. The farm should’ve known better than to sell it, but they were more concerned about money than the health of the animals they sold hay for. The alpacas all had allergic reactions to it, their eyes all swelled.

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  12. I wish they would tell us where they bought the hay so we don’t buy from the same place. Obviously the place isn’t spraying for weeds. If Colorado hay farmers hadn’t sold all their hay to Texas n Oklahoma then we in Colorado wouldn’t have to be scrounging for hay and paying outrageous prices for a bale of hay.

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  13. Email to Dean Bolstad

    Dear Mr. Bolstad, I have talked to you in the Past with deep concerns for Our Wild Mustangs, Now 19 more Mustangs have died because of Hey Laced with Milkweed, this is not the first time, 2010 Fallon, because of inferior hey, also laced with milkweed highly toxic to horses, horses will not eat hey with Milkweed unless they are starving!!!!!!!!! Are they being starved????? If horses died somewhere else by this means Heads would roll !!!! Are there any heads rolling because of these innocent 19 mustangs died …………because of the purchase of tainted Hey????????? I would like an answer ??? also what is being done because of this negligence, …….I must say if the Mustangs were left where they rightfully belong all these deaths and the deaths caused by negligence, could and would have been averted , what has happened there is Criminal !!! And needs to addressed as such……. Where do you purchase the Hey for the Mustangs???? or is it grown by Prisoners?????? Please I request a detailed report !!!! Sincerely Devoted to the well being of Our Wild Mustangs , Arlene Orlando

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    • Great letter, Arlene! Questions that should and must be answered…19 beautiful, innocent mustangs suffered and died, needlessly! Who knows, they probably even knew what they were being feed…do we really think they care?! If they truly cared about our wild horses and burros they would be left alone, from the very beginning. We’ve been following one nightmare after another for far too long and it’s time we get answers! I sincerely hope you get the detailed report requested. Truth and justice for our equines is not too much to ask?!

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      • Always lies and Deception from the BLM !!! Just who do they think believe anything they say?????? The BLM have dug themselves a huge hole , for which they have not one answer for that would ever believed , knowing this why are they still in operation , they has been no Justice for the Innocent Mustangs , , when , who and where are the prosecutions that need to be addressed by Law !!!!?????? They have broken every Law regarding the Mustangs, when will justice finally come ??????? and prevail;???????

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  14. I am offended by this, and more than a bit skeptical. Coverup?

    Don’t horses have a natural aversion to plants like milkweed, especially wild horses? Where are they getting the hay? It’s not like this plant is difficult to identify, and livestock is supposed to find it unpalatable. But it just goes to show the indifference of the BLM in placing animals in the care of those who really have no proper knowledge of the care of horses, questionable integrity, and no business being around animals period, if their only requirement is that their handling be on the cheap.

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    • I still am not satisfied with this explanation. And I think they have changed some of the ‘facts’ that were in the early release of info; that they were all in one pen… and now many more were in the same pen and did not get sick… ? Be skeptical.

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  15. Between feeding alfalfa – too rich for the horses and then feeding them crappy hay that makes them sick – who are these so called experts that are supposedly taking care of the horses? (Obviously, not expert at anything nor caring)
    I guess the rest of the horses are fortunate that the milkweed was just in the bales in the one pen.

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  16. We have been in a hay crisis for well over a year and we need coordination and cooperation to keep prices down and enough hay where it is needed. Sending hay overseas seems to be the major drain and reason prices have continued to soar.

    To have lines of communication and positive attitudes towards the consumers here could help many folks who want to keep their horses and burros. We still have a thriving horse community across this country altho’ it has needed downsizing and this seems to be happening. Yet, the encouraging of hay sales overseas has created a shortage and a crisis that could have been avoided if our country had met its own needs first. And yet I think Capitalism alone cannot be blamed.

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