Most of the New South Wales breeding season could be salvaged if the Australian government approves a vaccination program to help stem the spread of equine influenza, according to representatives of the William Inglis & Son sale company who are in Kentucky for the Keeneland September yearling sale.
“The initial strategy has been containment, but I don’t think containment has worked,” Mark Webster, managing director for Inglis, said of the unsuccessful attempts so far to keep EI from spreading. “The general feeling now is that it has gone beyond that and it can’t be contained, so we need to vaccinate.”
EI has had a negative impact on racing and breeding in New South Wales and efforts to contain it by limiting movement of horses have failed to work, leading some to call for the vaccination program. So far, the virus has been found in New South Wales and Queensland, but not Victoria, where racing continues without interruption. Also, racing has returned on a limited basis in the affected areas after initially being halted for two weeks immediately after EI was detected.
But it is the potential disruption of the breeding season and its impact on farms and related industries that is causing the most concern among breeders and the sales companies. In addition to the vaccination program, the New South Wales breeding industry is seeking permission to move mares between farms that thus far are unaffected by EI.
“I think it would be close to a regular breeding season if a decision to vaccinate is made soon and a permanent system is put in place to move mares, so people could make up some of the lost ground,” Webster said. “The foal population in two years’ time will definitely be down, but it is too early to tell by exactly how much.”
Webster said there is some opposition to the vaccination plan because it would have to be carried out on all horses in the country – not just Thoroughbreds – and could have a financial impact on owners of other horse breeds.
The breeding season in Australia began a week earlier than usual due to the possibility of a backlog of mares waiting to be bred later in the breeding season as a result of EI. Though movement of mares and horses is restricted, breeding is taking place on some farms, with only mares on that farm being bred to the farm’s stallions.
Not unlike racing, breeding activities are continuing in Victoria and part of the country other than New South Wales, Webster said.
Webster said there has also been no decision on whether the Australian government will approve financial assistance to those impacted by the EI’s disruption of the breeding season.
Over the weekend, the government announced an AUS$110 million assistance program to assist the racing industry and other areas of the horse industry. The assistance is primarily available to those involved in racing or ancillary businesses – trainers, farriers, and transportation -- and does not include the breeding industry, Webster said.
Webster and two other Inglis & Son representatives – Matt Rudolph and Jamie Inglis – are in Kentucky during the Keeneland September yearling sale. They are on a quest to line up possible broodmare acquisitions that could be bred to stallions in Kentucky on the Southern Hemisphere breeding season schedule should a vaccination program or plan to allow mares to be moved between farms not be approved.
Webster said the mare-acquisition program has drawn widespread interest from Australian breeders, but it is only a backup plan. He said breeders would be making alternative plans if no solutions were found on or before Sept. 22.
Webster and the other Inglis representatives said it is too early to tell what effect EI might have on the 43 Northern Hemisphere stallions currently confined to a quarantine station awaiting resumption of the breeding season in New South Wales. They said some of those stallions have also contracted EI, but that names of the affected stallions were not available.