MRLS Meeting Focuses on Communication Network

There may not be answers as to the cause of mare reproductive loss syndrome, but there's certainly a desire for more information. More than 300 people turned out at meeting in Lexington Monday night to exchange information and prepare for the 2002 breeding season.

Co-hosted by the Equine Maintenance Managers Association and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, the meeting, held at the Fayette County Extension Office, was designed to strengthen the communication system in the equine industry in light of the MRLS outbreak in the spring of 2001.

The communication network includes an oversight committee made up of University of Kentucky representatives, Thoroughbred and Standardbred farm managers, veterinarians, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture; an equine industry task force headed by Kentucky Thoroughbred Association executive director David Switzer, a University of Kentucky Web site with regular updates; and a hotline (859-257-MARE).

When the problem of foal loss was suddenly discovered in late April of last year, communication was a work in progress.

"This leaves us with a lot more than a shotgun approach," said Dr. Jimmy Henning of the University of Kentucky Department of Agronomy.

Twelve farms, both large and small, are being monitored in Bourbon, Fayette, Jessamine, and Woodford counties. Researchers are measuring mycotoxins, alkaloids, nitrates, soil, the weather, potential sources of cyanide, and mare blood and urine.

Henning said if an "abnormal" or "high-risk" situation arises, a framework is in place to disseminate information this year.

Roger Allman of The Farm Clinic said surveys from 2001 didn't indicate unusual levels of calcium, potassium, or nitrates in soil and plant analyses. "Based on the data...nothing jumped out at me as out of the ordinary with mineral content."

Allman did say there seemed to be a correlation between mowing of fields and foal loss. The more fields were trimmed, the fewer the losses in some cases. He suggested grass be kept in the five- to six-inch range.

Dr. Lee Townsend of the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology offered possible treatments for the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. The population prediction for 2002 is about the same as it was in 2001, he said, because the number of caterpillars generally remains about the same for two or three years, then decreases.

On the topic of mycotoxins, the secondary metabolites of mold growth, Dr. Kyle Newman of Venture Laboratories said it's a guessing game. In 1998, there were about 300 identified mycotoxins; now, the number is more than 1,000, he said.

Even though little known about mycotoxins, including whether they were directly responsible for MRLS, Newman said steps can be taken to control them. The primary step is removal or dilution of contaminated feed.

A number of mycotoxins produce symptoms consistent with those observed in the spring of 2001, but pulling it all together is another story, Newman said. Toxins are flushed out of a horse's system in 24 hours, which leaves little time to gather the evidence.

"In 2001, we missed it when it was there--if it was there," he said.

Newman suggested farm personnel collect urine and blood samples from mares at the first indication of a problem.