Operation Gelding helps manage equine population
JANESVILLE In a moment of weakness, Susan Schmidtke left the little donkey in a pen with his mother. He was still nursing a little, and she didn't have the heart to separate them.
Before she knew it, the 6-month-old donkey had impregnated his mother and a neighboring pony.
Schmidtke doesn't want any more baby animals at her rural Racine farm. She's in her 60s and wants to provide a safe home for her animals as long as she can.
"I want to see them out until their old age, until they die," Schmidtke said.
For a year now, she's had to keep her male and female donkeys and ponies on separate farms to prevent more babies. That has meant winter hikes across fields to do chores, Schmidtke said.
"I can't do it at my age," she said.
On Saturday, Schmidtke was on cloud nine at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. She was one of a handful of horse, donkey, pony and miniature horse owners who came from across Wisconsin and northern Illinois for the first local Operation Gelding event.
Volunteers castrated 18 stallions Saturday in the grass outside the stock pavilion at the fairgrounds. Animal owners paid $50 per head for the service. The cost for castration at a veterinary clinic is between $200 and $400, said veterinarian Dean Peterson.
Operation Gelding is a low-cost castration event sponsored by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, a national advocacy group. Members of the local Rock Valley Veterinary Medical Association organized the local event. The coalition paid $50 per animal for up to 20 animals to cover the cost of labor and equipment.
Local veterinarians as well as students from the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine handled the horses and performed the surgeries.
In 2011, 296 horses in the United States were castrated through Operation Gelding, Peterson said.
The goal is to reduce the number of unwanted horses in the United States. Horses become unwanted in many ways, Peterson said. In some cases, horses have training needs greater than their owners can provide. In others, owners become unable to pay for feed and veterinary care.
In some cases, such as on Schmidtke's farm, owners wait too long to get young stallions gelded. Before they know it, they've got a new generation of animals running around the farm.
The surgery also can improve the quality of life for an animal, Peterson said. Geldings are calmer and less aggressive than stallions to people and other horses. They make better pets, he said.
"A lot of times, these animals are not in the best housing conditions," Peterson said. "They can't be put out with the rest of the herd because they would bite them or kick them."
The stallions end up isolated because the owners can't or don't want to build better accommodations for them, he said.
Local veterinarians don't have specific plans for another castration event, but the need is there, Peterson said.
"I bet there are so many people who would jump at the opportunity," Schmidtke said. "It meant the world to me."