Price Tag on MRLS in Kentucky: $300.5 MIllion

From the Dec. 22 issue The Blood-Horse
Kentucky's Thoroughbred industry lost more than 30% of its expected 2002 foal crop and will take a financial hit of about $300.5 million due to mare reproductive loss syndrome.

Thoroughbred breeders took the brunt of MRLS, which claimed the lives of 14,980 foals of all breeds and will cause a total economic loss of nearly $336 million, according to a study by the University of Louisville's Department of Equine Business. The study included a survey of 1,024 breeders and breeding farm operators representing six breeds.

MRLS affected two foal crops by causing late-term foal loss for the crop of 2001 and early fetal loss for the 2002 Kentucky crop. Thoroughbred farms lost an estimated 516 foals in 2001 and reported 2,998 pregnancies lost for 2002, or 30.5% of the anticipated foal crop. Of all breeds, 1,356 foals, or 9.1%, were lost from the 2001 foal crop, and an estimated 26% of Kentucky's all-breed foal crop for 2002 is gone.

After Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horse and Standardbred breeders suffered the biggest losses. Quarter Horse breeders lost 550 foals, or 22.1%, from the 2001 foal crop and are expected to lose 409 foals, 16.4%, from the 2002 crop. The Quarter Horse industry can expect about $14.1 million in losses. Standardbred breeders lost nearly 21%, 150 foals, of their 2001 crop and will lose about 20%, 142 foals, from the 2002 crop. Total economic losses to Standardbred breeders will be more than $13.5 million.

Breeders and owners will feel the economic fallout at least through 2003. What they lost from the 2001 foal crop began accumulating last year with their maintenance costs. Thoroughbred breeders lost an estimated $15.2 million in 2000. The losses escalated to $109.4 million this year for mare maintenance and replacement costs, and are expected to spike at $124.8 million in 2002 due to lost sale revenue. Losses for the crop of 2002 will extend through 2003, which is expected to be nearly $51.1 million.

The aftermath of MRLS could extend beyond 2003 because of perception, according to the study.

"Additional losses may also occur as a result of the scare over MRLS, which could result in a reduction of mares sent to Kentucky in 2002 or lower values for mares bred in 2001," the report said. The study also warned that the 2001-2003 losses were based on a single event. If the condition should occur again, losses "could be more dramatic over a longer period of time."

The study estimated the economic loss by calculating the cost of producing a foal through its sale as a yearling. The estimate considered the cost of the mare, stud fee, weanling cost, and yearling cost. For Thoroughbreds, the study estimated a cost of $85,142 per foal.

Among those most affected by MRLS losses are breeders, stallion owners, horse farm operators, sale companies, bloodstock agents, veterinarians, farriers, and transport companies. The study does not mention feed companies, tack shops, or other suppliers.