Conditions at Kalona Auction
Call for Swift Action
Sept. 20, 2016     
On August 1st, AA investigators conducted a follow-up visit to the Kalona Horse Auction. If you're not familiar with the name "Kalona," it's important to know that while horse auctions can be found in just about every state, Kalona is one of the few truly large-scale slaughter sales in the entire country. This auction usually sells more slaughter horses than it does riding or work horses. It's also a headquarters of sorts for the Amish and Mennonite communities to dump their used up horses in exchange for new ones.

The last time we visited, back in 2013, the conditions we found the animals subjected to were appalling. Our hope for this recent August visit was that Kalona had improved the care and handling for the animals that go through their sale.  

When our investigators arrived the morning of August 1st, things were already heating up, in more ways than one. It wasn't even 9 a.m. yet and the temperature was already set to break eighty degrees. A swarm of buyers were milling around the grounds, getting prepared for the day's sales.

Given who some of the attendees were, it was clear that this was going to be a very busy auction for bidding. Scott Kurtenbach (Lawler, IA), the largest kill buyer in the area was there. Every month he ships hundreds of horses to the Les Viandes de La Petite Nation horse slaughter plant in Quebec, Canada. 

Also at the auction was long-term and large-scale kill buyer Keith Tongen. He's known for transporting slaughter horses bought at the Kalona Auction all the way to the Viande Richelieu plant in Quebec. A couple of other horse traders who sent representatives included 4R Ranch (Rineyville, KY) and Duncan Farms (Ft. Scott, KS).

To watch exclusive video footage from this August 2016 investigation, go here.

When the auction began, the horses were unloaded from a long line of trailers and split up into different pens. While the riding horses were put into pens inside the barn, most slaughter prospects were moved to large outdoor pens. Pleasantly surprised, the investigators noticed that these pens had new sheltering and the auction had set out hay and water for the horses. Unfortunately, this was the only positive change observed that day as our investigators noted the following concerns:
  • Numerous horses with overgrown, cracked, or split hooves.
  • Lame horses, including horses with severe injuries to their legs and open, untreated sores.
  • An excessive amount of biting, kicking, and fighting between horses due to crowded pens.
  • A foal separated from its mother and left alone in a dark pen to care for itself.
  • A single Quarter horse kept in a tiny bull pen that was so small, the horse couldn't even lift its head.
  • A grey horse with a bleeding wound on its forehead, likely sustained during transport.
  • Poor handling of horses with heavy hitting across face and head.
Inside one of the kill pens, investigators noticed a horse with a heartbreaking, handwritten note attached to its hip and a braided tail.  The note read "Hank," written in what was obviously a child's hand. Sadly, despite this attempt to attract a private home, Hank was bought by one of the kill buyers.

Later in the afternoon, whips and sticks were used to move the kill pen horses from the outside pens to an area closer to the auction ring. After this was done (which thoroughly agitated the horses) the loose horse sale began.

Panicked, frightened horses were shuffled against their will through a narrow chute with a heavy hydraulic gate that blocked the entrance of the auction ring. To get the groups of horse as close to the gate as possible, auction employees struck the animals across their face and heads while shouting hateful things at them. They were quoted saying "one-eyed son of a bitch" and "stupid bitch, get in there."

What ensued was absolute pandemonium at the gate. Driven by fear and confusion, many horses crashed into the gate in a desperate attempt to escape while several others were crushed by the gate as they tried to follow another horse into the ring.

To watch exclusive video footage from this August 2016 investigation, go here.

Prices for the kill horses ranged anywhere from $200-$800, depending on many different variables including weight, condition, temperament. It should be noted that riding horses were sold in a completely different auction ring than the slaughter horses. And while the auctioneer took a long time to advertise each riding horse, the kill pen horses sold in seconds. Investigators were quick to notice that all of the kill buyers sat next to each other in the front row near the auction ring, with a prime view and the auctioneer's attention.

The horse sale ended just after 7:00 p.m. and at that time about 90 horses were moved back to the outside pens to await their fate.  Kurtenbach, Tongen, and Duncan Farms loaded up their acquisitions and left pretty quickly, but the 4R Ranch trailer did not move.

The next morning, many of the horses left in the outside pens had slaughter tags attached to their hips, their fate apparently sealed. Around 10:00 a.m., investigators watched as the trailer for 4R Ranch loaded up a pen of horses and left the premises. At 1:04 p.m., a truck belonging to large-scale kill buyer George Baker from Stroud, OK arrived and filled up a trailer with horses as well. That was the last activity for the day. Around 35 horses were left in the outside pens.  These horses were likely scheduled for pick-up the next day or during the night.

The behavior and inhumane treatment witnessed during this recent visit are by no means isolated incidents for this auction. Our investigations in 2009, 2012, and 2013 all show a continual disregard for animal welfare.

To watch the video of this auction from 2012, please go here.

Warning, both videos are graphic and may be upsetting to some viewers.

To watch the video of this auction from 2009, please go here.

Obviously, something needs to be done to stop the inhumane treatment we saw over the course of two days this past August. The absent medical care, the overcrowding of pens, the whipping and hitting, the use of the hydraulic gate, it all needs to STOP

While we've issued complaints in the past about the inhumane treatment Kalona has been caught perpetrating on the animals in their care, it's clear that more needs to be done. We even recently consulted with Dr. Temple Grandin who confirmed our assessment about the gate. Dr. Grandin agrees that the gate should be discontinued and a better system put into place.

We hope that by bringing these conditions to light to you, our supporters and animal advocacy family, we can amplify our demand for justice. We trust you will join us in a Call for Action on behalf of the animals sold at the Kalona Auction.


Feel free to use our sample letter below or write one of your own. Remember, there is strength in numbers! We encourage our supporters and animal advocates everywhere to contact the individuals on the below list, letting them know the inhumane treatment at the Kalona Livestock Auction must stop!

"Investigations conducted by Animals' Angels, Inc. at the Kalona Livestock Auction show that the handling of the animals by auction workers is unacceptable. I strongly urge you to direct auction management to provide proper training to their employees with regards to acceptable and humane treatment and handling of the animals in their care. 

In addition, the hydraulic gate used at the Kalona Livestock Auction is inhumane, and its use at the horse sale should be discontinued. Dr. Temple Grandin, who consulted with Animals' Angels, agrees that the gate should be discontinued and a better system needs to be put into place. 

The animals going through this sale deserve humane treatment and I hope as a lawmaker and official of the City of Kalona you will use your influence to make it happen."
Ken Herington
Mayor, City of Kalona
511 C Avenue
PO Box 1213
Kalona, IA  52247
FAX No. 319-656-5148
Mark Robe
Council Member, City of Kalona
511 C Avenue
PO Box 1213
Kalona, IA  52247
FAX No. 319-656-5148
Ryan Schlabaugh
City Administrator
511 C Avenue
PO Box 1213
Kalona, IA  52247
FAX No. 319-656-5148
We at Animals' Angels urge you to get in touch with town officials and enforcement agencies and demand that the auction put a STOP to the use of the hydraulic gate. This Call to Action also addresses the rough handling the animals going through this sale have to endure. We must make sure auction management provides proper, ongoing training to their employees on the humane handling of animals.

Please help us help the animals. They lack the voice to do so themselves, so it's up to us to speak for them and to protect their well-being as beautiful, sensitive, and sentient creatures. Many thanks go out to each of you for supporting us in these efforts. We could not do it without you.

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sonja inspecting trailer

Your support is crucial to continue the fight against animal cruelty.  Animals' Angels counts on you! Help us be there for the animals.

Animals' Angels works to improve the conditions for farm animals and horses all over the country. 
Our investigators are out in the field nationwide, visiting auctions, kill pens, feedlots and slaughter plants to uncover the cruelty and abuse that animals all too often face each and every day.
Animals' Angels, Inc.
PO Box 1056
Westminster, MD 21158
[email protected]
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