Update: On Saturday, the day this story first appeared in print, Beth Caffrey of the SPCA said it can cost up to $10 per day to feed each horse. Among the other supplies needed to care for the horses are halters, ropes, and buckets, tubs and troughs for food and water.
On Friday, Caffrey suggested it could cost as much as $60 to $70 daily to feed each horse. She said the cost was so high because the afflicted animals have special nutritional needs and because many of the horses are wild and waste much of their feed.
Horse owners and livestock feed store operators, however, said the SPCA's figure was unrealistically high. Based on the current prices of hay and feed supplements, they said, it should cost $5 to $7 a day to feed a healthy adult horse. A malnourished horse would need some additional feed and care, they said, but nowhere near $60 or $70 a day.
Caffrey said Saturday that she re-estimated the feed cost after checking with horse experts.
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A herd of starving and dead horses has turned up on a farm near Riverdale, the second time this week in Fresno County that malnourished horses were seized, the Sheriff's Office reported Friday.
This year has been the worst in more than 20 years for the Central California Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in caring for malnourished and abused horses, said Beth Caffrey, humane education administrator.
The SPCA has taken charge of several hundred horses this year, she said.
The reasons: cost and the ailing economy, she said. To feed one horse costs $60 to $70 per day, she said. If a horse has special dietary needs, feed can cost $100 daily.
"The sad thing that happens in a bad economy is the veterinary care stops," she said. "Then comes feeding and foot problems."
Earlier this year when horses were removed from another Fresno-area farm, the dental work alone cost the SPCA about $2,000 for just a couple horses, she said.
Friday at the Riverdale farm, 14 horses were found hungry and dehydrated, and two had to be euthanized, Caffrey said.
One euthanized horse had a broken ankle that had been untreated, and a second was euthanized because of severe malnutrition. Four horse carcasses also were discovered on the property when the SPCA arrived.
The Riverdale farm, in the 20000 block of South Garfield Avenue about four miles west of town, is a large piece of property that offered horses almost nothing to graze on and appeared to have one watering station and no feed troughs, Caffrey said.
The owner of the horses is in Mexico, Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Phil Caporale said.
When the owner returns, he could be arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty, Caporale said. Caffrey said the SPCA will recommend the owner be prosecuted.
One horse was taken to the SPCA in Fresno. The others will be cared for on the farm while SPCA workers try to find stables that will adopt or temporarily care for them.
Earlier this week, 18 malnourished horses were removed from a ranch north of Clovis.
Another horse was euthanized there.
The surviving horses were taken to a private stable, where they are being fed and cared for, Caffrey said.
Those horses belonged to Dana Thomas Kahler, 59, who was booked into Fresno County Jail on Tuesday on felony animal abuse charges. Kahler was released on bond Wednesday.
Little is known about Kahler other than he has worked as a life insurance agent. He could not be reached for comment this week.
Investigators found Kahler's horses in varying stages of neglect and malnutrition. It took until Thursday to remove the horses because they were not used to human contact, being in a trailer or wearing a halter, Caffrey said.
"They were basically like wild mustangs," she said. "It was a dangerous situation; some of the horses were breaking fences."
Caffrey said she was unaware Friday whether the SPCA had received complaints about Kahler in the past, but she said the investigation continues.