By Jim Schnepel, Wild Horse of America Foundation
14 Dec 2015: Exercising poor judgment, I drove 4 hours through various blizzards to tour the Axtell Contract Off-Range Corrals (facility) in Axtell, Utah. We met the contractor and his family, who all work together to run the facility. They were very nice and freely answered all questions. There were also 4 BLM employees on hand, as well as the facility veterinarian.
Here is some info from the tour:
1. The Axtell facility is one of two locations in Utah that provides care for wild horses and burros who have been removed from the range. The other is the BLM facility in Delta, UT.
2. It is privately owned and operated, and started as a burro facility. It is the only burro facility in the U.S. Burro adoptions used to keep up with the animals as they were removed from the range, but now do not. The facility has about 900 burros, with a contracted capacity for up to 1,200.
3. The facility has been taking horses since June. It has about 650 horses, and is contracted for up to 1,000.
4. BLM pays $4.00 per horse per day which covers feed and care. BLM covers the cost of veterinary and foot care. BLM provided a hydraulic squeeze chute, but the rest of the equipment was paid for by the contractor, including all site improvements: pens, waterlines, panels, feeding stations, and a nice metal building where the horses are treated (vaccinations, freeze brands, hoof trimming, etc). They have put a lot of money into the operation. (Quick math indicates 650 horses would gross $936,000 per year. However, you'd have to deduct for land costs and improvements, employees, feed, supplements, maintenance, vehicles, etc. Though I don't know the expenses, it doesn't seem like a get-rich-quick type of operation.)
5. I didn't get the break-down numbers for the horses as to which herd they came from, but the majority came from the following herds: Cold Creek ("few hundred"), Blawn Wash, Salt Creek and Spruce Piquot. However, horses can come from any herd. Each horse receives a freeze brand and wears a numbered medallion on a neck rope to make identification easier. (Very occasionally, an animal can get a rear leg stuck in the neck rope and can cause itself great harm, possibly requiring euthanasia. This is more of a problem for burros. BLM is looking at doing a study at Axtell that uses implanted RFID chips to track horses instead of the neck ropes.)
6. The facility is an off-range corral and the horses are generally good candidates for adoption. When adoptions numbers were higher, horses would typically only stay for a maximum of about 1 year. However, now that adoptions are lower, they could stay, theoretically, for 5-10 years. While you cannot generally adopt directly from the facility, if a specific horse is identified it can be transported to a BLM facility where it can be adopted (typically to Delta, UT). The facility also trades fresh, adoptable stock with Delta, as well as supplying horses to other BLM adoptions. The facility is short on 2-3 year old geldings since demand has been good. Horses that are over 5 years old are considered very unlikely to be adopted and are shipped to long-term pastures, which are typically in the mid-west. (Horses headed for long-term pastures receive a large hip brand of the number that has been worn around their necks on a rope. There are approximately 30,000 horses in long-term pasture facilities. No veterinary care is provided for horses in long-term pastures.)
7. BLM awarded a 1-year contract with four 1-year options for renewal. This is common, and makes it a bit of a gamble to invest in the infrastructure necessary to run one of these facilities. However, if the contractor does a good job it is highly unlikely that the contract won't be renewed. (Moving horses is expensive and time consuming.)
8. The contractor said his neighbors (it's a rural, agricultural community) have not complained about his operation. Some complaints from the community at large are quickly countered by stating how much money it brings into the local economy (the contractor tries to buy everything locally). In addition to buying hay from his neighbors, the contractor supplies horse manure for their fields. A BLM employee said the complaints they hear are generally from people who also want to get paid to run government stock on their land.