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Mustangs in Mississippi
When most people think of the Mustang, the mind pictures the wide open plains and deserts of the west in Nevada, Utah, Arizona or Colorado, but there are Mustangs to be had in Mississippi. These are no longer in wild herds, roaming in bands as they do out west but in a 110-acre holding facility in Piney Woods, Mississippi, south of Jackson. This holding facility leased by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the Piney Woods School is for the acclimation and distribution of Mustangs that have been gathered out west. The acclimation is to get them used to humans, geld, vaccinate, de-worm and make sure they are ready for adoption. They also need time to acclimate to the higher humidity and greener pastures in the east as well. The distribution is to adoption at auctions held several times a year throughout the south and mid-west. Mustangs may be adopted at Piney Woods by appointment. The facility also houses and adopts out wild burros.
There are six people on staff at Piney Woods- four program specialists for the auctions that do not specifically work at the facility, one worker, and the manager. Cary Frost is the manager of the facility and it is easy to see in just a short conversation how much he loves horses and Mustangs in particular. Frost looks the part of the seasoned cowboy. One might say that Frost grew up in the business. His father was a Mustang gatherer in Nevada from 1975 until his retirement in 2006. Frost was raised on the ranch in California and at 17 years old started working summers with his father. “I did not know what a summer vacation was,” he said. “I rodeoed for a few years and started officially with BLM in 1993.” He said that he has owned several Mustangs. “I like to start colts, and have started a lot of Mustangs. Ten or twelve hardly even bucked. They may not be the prettiest, but give them some training and they make a good horse,” he said. “I had one that I could take his bridle off to work cattle on him. He would not let a cow past him,” he added. “I've also had some that were lazy and one who was real clumsy. He would trip and fall down a lot but never got hurt. Mustangs know how to take care of themselves. They are easy keepers. When they get here they don't have hoof problems. They do just fine on the alfalfa that we feed them along with some oats, but their systems are not used to the broad-leaf plants that can cause impaction. The alfalfa keeps their system working to prevent colic.”
The Piney Woods BLM facility opened in December 2010 but is still under construction to a certain extent. Only 110 acres of the 2,000 acres that the school owns is leased. The fencing is constructed with six foot tall metal tube panels manufactured by WW livestock systems and the horses are mostly grouped in small herds, confined to pastures and some corrals rather than pins. There are automatic waterers in every pasture. Frost said that he tries to separate the horses by gender and there are some foals that are born there. He added that BLM does not gather Mustangs during the foaling season, March through June, unless there is an emergency like a wildfire or drought. Jimmy Alexander, DVM, is the local horse veterinarian. He gelds and inoculates the Mustangs. Frost said that some colts have been adopted out as weanlings and returned back as stallions. A livestock chute system with a squeeze chute is used for vet treatment and hoof trimming. Cary said that they used to have the vet partially anesthetize the horses to trim their feet and thus could do no more than 25 a day, but with the squeeze chute no vet is necessary and they trim up to 40 head a day. Part of the ongoing construction is to ad wood sides to the chutes to protect the horses from injury and cut down on the noise. Flies are a problem in the summer and Frost said that he is using fly tags and plans to introduce a fly predator system. He added “The flies are tearing my burros up”. One particular burro he named Fuzzy has been there about a year and is practically a pet. Frost was asked to comment about the recent study commissioned by BLM from a committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that reviewed the BLM’s wild horse and burro management issues over a two-year period. He said that he had not been given any recommendations yet but he is sure there will be some. He said they will probably recommend to build shelters and provide more shade, however he said that the Mustangs are not used being inside buildings and will not use them, but more shade trees would be good and they may use them.
The facility services 11 states for adoption auctions and Mustang makeover events. Less than 140 head are kept there at one time, but 500- 700 move through in a year. The numbers needed for an auction are ordered from Nevada and Colorado and stay at Piney Woods at least a week. When they arrive Frost said he can tell which ones have been gathered recently and which ones have been in captivity for a while by how nervous they are. Some are already used to the chutes and trailering . He commented that he wished he could get them all halter broke for adoption. The numbers adopted at an auction vary a lot. A recent auction in Murray, KY only had 11 head adopted while the one in Knoxville, TN had 33 out of 50 head adopted. The Mustang Million in Murfreesboro was a big success with 150 head, and one horse going for thousands of dollars. Not all of the Mustangs will be adopted at an auction and those who adopt Mustangs may return them back to the BLM if the horse does not work out for them. It is an ongoing process.
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