John A. Bell III reached into his pocket and pulled out two sheets of paper with the cold, hard facts. "Well, here's the bad news," he said. Bad news, indeed, for the family-owned and operated Jonabell Farm that Bell founded in 1956. Of 76 mares previously checked and believed to be in foal for next year, 33 of them, 44%, are no longer pregnant. "Never seen anything like it," Bell said. His wife, Jessica, shook her head, adding, "It's just devastating."
The information session on late term abortions and early fetal loss conducted at the Keeneland sales pavilion Thursday will be available online at Keeneland's web site, www.keeneland.com, for the next 48 hours. In addition, Keeneland announced at the meeting that it will have a videotape of the session available early next week.
By Sarah E. Hogwood Simpsonville, Ky., is experiencing the same problems that are plaguing horse breeders in Lexington, according to William Rhoads, DVM, and Scott Bennett, DVM, of Equine Services Hospital.
Actually, the view from the field in Central Kentucky is rather lonely. There are acres and acres of fresh-mown--or being furiously mowed--pastures that are beginning to resemble putting greens. The recommendation is to cut the grass to hopefully reduce the amount of mycotoxins being ingested by mares--if in fact that is the cause of the current syndromes affecting pregnant mares. Managers and owners desperate for something to do that might help are taking all suggestions seriously. Veterinarians are pulling out all the stops treating at-risk mares with everything that seems logical. Researchers and scientists are busily taking samples and running tests to try and find answers.
Officials with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Animal Industry, reported early Thursday afternoon that in 2 1/2 days they have received applications for 71 permits for horse shipments from Kentucky to Florida. In the wake of the recent foal/fetal loss outbreak in Kentucky, the state of Florida enacted temporary regulations requiring all horses from the Bluegrass State be tracked through the issuance of a permit from the state's Commissioner of Agriculture.
On Tuesday, May 8, notices were sent to each state veterinarian "to make sure they got factual information" about the current foal loss problems, said Rusty Ford, Equine Programs Manager with the Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office.
A veterinarian in Morgan County, Ohio, suspects that five cases of red bag delivery within the past week--plus 10 pregnant mares that are now empty--could be the same syndrome that horse owners and veterinarians in Kentucky are dealing with, according to Grant Frazer, BVSc, MS, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University.
Veterinary and diagnostic professionals in Kentucky are working feverishly to identify the cause of the recent abortion and early fetal loss syndromes. One of the most probable causes is mycotoxins in pastures. If that is the case, then a mycotoxin binder used for other animals--and now being produced locally as a feed additive for horses--could offer the first preventative treatment for the current situation.
The highest number of foals/fetal samples taken to the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington, Ky., during the current problem with late-term abortions and early embryonic loss occurred on Derby Day, May 5, according to the Center's Director, Lenn Harrison, VMD, Dipl. ACVP. On that day, 73 foals/fetuses were brought in for examination. Word from at least two veterinarians is that while early pregnancy mares might still be at risk for losing their pregnancies, the loss of these late-term foals is slowing.
In the wake of the outbreak of late-term fetal/foal deaths and near-term abortions in mares in Central Kentucky, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued guidelines for the equine industry on horses from Kentucky entering Florida. The guidelines require a permit to be obtained prior to shipment by veterinarians who issue Official Certificates of Veterinary Inspection. It also recommends to Florida farms that mares from Kentucky be kept isolated from other horses and their health be closely monitored. There has been no ban issued on shipment of horses from Kentucky to Florida.
Thoroughbred industry leaders, veterinarians, researchers, and farm managers met with the media at the Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., for a press briefing on the current fetal/foal loss syndromes occurring in the state. While there are no answers as to why so many mares are aborting in near-term or having stillborns in late term, there are defined paths being taken that everyone involved hopes will lead to the cause.
Dr. Doug Byars, a veterinary reproductive specialist at Hagyard-Davidson-Mcgee near Lexington, offers the latest information and advice to horse owners and farm managers concerning the excessive loss of late-term and near term foals. He was interviewed by Kimberly S. Graetz, editor of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care (www.thehorse.com) and a contributing editor to The Blood-Horse.
An outbreak of early-term fetal loss in 1980 was eventually discounted by researchers as an "artifact epidemic" caused by earlier than usual examinations. Still, that outbreak now is viewed by many as similar in nature to the current syndrome that many Central Kentucky farms are experiencing. According to experts such as Dr. David Powell of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, the current problem is much more widespread than in 1980.
The director and staff of the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory have been working long hours conducting necropsies and running tests in an attempt to find answers to the questions raised during the ongoing losses of fetuses and foals in the state. While there hasn't been time yet to compile official numbers of incoming horses for testing, more than 60 have come on some days. The normal number of incoming abortions per day at this time of year is five to six, with a little higher number per day of dead foals.
Officials with several major Central Kentucky farms shared their experiences about the unsolved excessive foal loss that has been discovered in recent weeks. Area farms are working with the University of Kentucky's Maxwell Gluck Equine Research Center to better understand the problem.
Two "syndromes" that began near the end of the third week of April are causing Central Kentucky farms to lose an excessive number of foals and fetuses due to an as yet unknown cause. The first syndrome results in what mare owners know as "red bag," or premature placenta separation where the placenta comes out before the foal, often causing the foal to suffocate if the birth is unattended. The second syndrome was discovered around May 1 when veterinarians began routine 60-day fetal checks and discovered that many mares either were empty (not pregnant), or were in the process of losing their pregnancies. Some farms have experienced losses ranging from 25-75% of next year's foal crop. And there is no evidence that this problem is slowing down.