As of May 10, the states of Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana seem to be clear of the problems facing Kentucky horse breeders.
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.
As of noon today (May 9), the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center stated that a total of 371 aborted/stillborn fetuses had been submitted for diagnostic testing/evaluation since April 28, 2001. The total includes 25 submitted by noon on May 9, and 28 submitted May 8.
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.
The Keeneland Association announced Wednesday that Thursday's inforamtional meeting concerning later term abortions and early fetal deaths will be offered on its Website. The meeting, organized by the Kentucky Farm Managers' Club and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, begins at 5 p.m. (ET) in Keeneland's sales pavilion.
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.
In its early stages, the foal loss syndrome appeared to be contained to Kentucky.
The effects of the current crisis resulting from mares aborting or having late-term stillborn foals are being felt on the equine insurance business. According to insurance professionals, underwriters are not accepting any policies written for barrenness or prospective foal insurance in Central Kentucky.
David Parrish III, DVM, was president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners in 1980 when a mystery problem occurred that caused abortions in mares during early pregnancy. While both involved abortions and were mysteries, the differences in the severity of the two problems are as wide as the decades that separate them.
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.
The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine offers the following recommendations for mares currently in Kentucky and due to be shipped back to Florida in the near future...
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.
With Kentucky's share of the Thoroughbred foal crop in the United States at an all-time high of nearly 30%, the repercussions of the excessive foal loss that many Central Kentucky farms are experiencing may be felt for years to come. Based on figures compiled by The Blood-Horse, the economic impact of the problem could easily exceed $150 million, if foal losses amount to 20% of the anticipated 2002 crop. A 1997 national economic impact study conducted by Barents estimated the Kentucky breeding sector to be a $900 million industry annually.
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.
Two "syndromes" of unknown origin that began in late April are causing Central Kentucky farms to lose an excessive number of foals and fetuses. The first syndrome results in what broodmare owners know as "red bag," or premature placenta separation. The placenta comes out before the foal, often causing the foal to suffocate if the birth is unattended. The second syndrome was discovered a short time later, when veterinarians began to perform 60-day ultrasound fetal checks and found many mares either were not pregnant or in the process of ending their pregnancies. Some farms have experienced losses from 25-75% of next year's foal crop. There is no evidence the problems are slowing down.
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