In this day and age we shouldn't be surprised at the unusual things that thieves will choose to steal. However, I was taken back a bit when I recently read an article in Farm World. Thieves in southern Illinois entered the Southern Illinois Equestrian Center near Marion on two separate occasions and cut the tails on six horses. It is believed that the theft is tied to the market value of horsetails for use as extensions for show horses and for horsehair jewelry. The act of stealing horsetails is more widespread out West. Horsetail hair can sell for upwards of $80 to $100 each on the black market, especially hair with unique colors. There are websites for show horses that sell horsetail extensions for up to $500 each, depending on the colors and the weight. There is a growing market for horsehair bracelets that don't take much hair to make. Approximately three feet of the tails was removed from each horse. While it doesn't cause pain, it leaves the horses with problems during the summer months, as the tails are needed to swat away the biting flies. In Illinois the act of stealing a horsetail is a Class A misdemeanor that carries with it a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Tails are not only important for the comfort of horses in the summer, they are also much needed by cows that go out to pasture. As I read about the loss of the horses' tails, it brought back memories of another tail.
Many years ago we were in need of a couple dairy cows to replace ones that we had culled. My Dad and I attended a public auction of 80 registered Holstein dairy cows near Navarre. We arrived early and looked over the herd. We found only two cows in the entire herd that were the nice dairy type and the kind of udders we were looking for. We were lucky enough to bid those two in for $500 and $510 each, a pretty high price at that time. One of the cows was sired by an A.I. bull named Sir Wallace Design and had been bred in the herd of Kenneth Renner at Dalton, Ted Renner's father.
Her name was Sally and she had been housed with those other 79 cows in a straw shed-type barn. We brought her home and put her in a stanchion barn. One of the things we noticed about her was that every night when my Dad went to the barn at 11 o'clock to check on things, she would be standing up eating while most of the other cows would be at rest. She wasn't a big cow, and we decided that those other 79 cows had been pushing her back from the feed and she wasn't going to let an opportunity to eat her fill go by! Her production increased and she was a very good cow!
Our cows were out on pasture in the summer, and as we watched them making their way to the barn one hot summer evening, we realized something was wrong with Sally. She was covered in blood from head to tail! As sometimes happens, she had been lying down and another cow had evidently stood on her tail. When she jumped up, the end of her tail and the switch were torn off. She had kept swinging her tail until there was blood everywhere. We hosed her down and got the bleeding stopped. We kept her in the barn for a few days until it healed and then let her go back out to pasture with the other cows. It was hot and there were lots of flies and the fly spray just didn't last on her, so she was miserable. I decided I had to do something to help her.
I cut a piece from a burlap feed bag, then cut it into strips of proper length, leaving a band at the top. I wrapped the band around her tail and I taped it fast. I had to experiment for a few times to get it just right. Once I did, Sally's "fake tail" would last for three or four days. By that time she would have the strips worn out, and I would make her another one. She was more content, her production didn't suffer, and I felt much better! During the cool months she didn't need it. Sally and her "fake tail" was with us for several years. It wasn't fancy and sometimes caused people to look twice, but it did the job!