Farm Managers Comment on Excessive Foal Loss

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.

Duncan Taylor, whose family owns Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, said: "We started seeing it in late April, early May. Some clients ask us to do fetal sexing testing. We were doing fetal sexing after 60-65 days and an abnormal number were showing up not in foal. Then we went and checked all those over 60 days and realized it was a problem. Something wasn't normal. At that point, we contacted the Gluck Center and had Dr. (David) Powell and Dr. (Roberta) Dwyer come out and we sat down with them. We were the first ones to report it.

"Since that point in time, they have been collecting information. We have tested the grass and water, drawn blood, tested fecal samples. We called in our pasture management person and nutrition specialist. We wanted to leave no stone unturned. They don't know yet (what the cause is). Everyone is guessing.

"After the Gluck people came out, we called people and suggested they check their mares. We wanted to know if it was just us. The veterinarians started checking with other veterinarians, and we found out it was not just us. I can just say that the mares we have checked 40 days and above, there is about a 25% loss."

Dan Rosenberg, president of Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, said he is seeing "significant" early fetal loss. "I have been on the phone non-stop with veterinarians and owners for the last several days," he said. "I think what is called for at this point is a deliberate and rational approach. We need to gather information, and we need to give it to the Gluck Center (at the University of Kentucky), which I think is a great resource." Rosenberg said Three Chimneys is sending samples of tissue, blood, soil, pasture, feed, and hay to Gluck.

"The feeling I get is that a lot of people are panicking," he said, "and I think this situation calls for calm. I'm not trying to belittle the problem, but I think we should gather information and look at all of it rationally. The Gluck effort is in full swing. It could be a virus, it could be mold, or it could be a toxin."

Rosenberg said he's already heard of people who plan to ship their mares out of Kentucky. "My answer is you may be bringing the problem home to you," he said. "Some people have told me they are going to keep their mares up 24 hours a day. But we know that doing that is not friendly to pregnancy.

"We got through CEM (contagious equine metritis) and we got through EVA (equine viral arteritis). But could have been devastating to our industry. "We'll get through this, too."

Overbrook Farm's Ric Waldman said the south Lexington farm has experienced a "larger than usual" number of early fetal loss but no unusual patter on late-term losses. "I heard of one mare this morning that had been bred to Storm Cat," Waldman said. I would assume no stallion is immune, as widespread as I'm hearing this is. This could have a widespread effect on stallion revenue, breeder's revenue, sale company revenue. No breeder would be immune to being affected by this this. It will affect the foal crop, which will affect the racing crop."

Gus Koch of Claiborne Farm near Paris called it "the biggest crisis we've ever faced in this industry since I've been around. What I'm hearing is this is devastating."

Koch said a Derby weekend check of about 40 mares found 25% of them no longer pregnant. "Most of those were past 60 days," he said. "We had one 'red bag,' lost in the foaling barn last week. We attribute the light losses in the foaling barn to the fact we use combat the effects of fescue toxicity on late-term mares. This is the drug we are using to combat early fetal loss -- once past 45 days they should be called abortions. Starting today, we are putting all our mares on it; we had been doing it with late-term foaling mares.

"The other ramification is you've been pushing your stallions hard and now there are mares wanting to come back. The stallions will stay busy. Unfortunately, these kinds of mares can be difficult to get re-bred, hard to get back in heat; they're high-risk mares. It's bad news."

George Mundy, a veterinarian who manages Hill 'n' Dale Farm near Lexington, said he hasn't experienced "the same type of loss that I've been hearing about. You have to wonder if it's a different type of grass that's in certain farms or certain fields," Mundy said. "It's going to take a lot of epidemiology to piece things together. Right now it's all speculation, because we're all sitting here groping for answers."

Dan Hall, manager of Adena Springs Farm near Versailles, said he has heard of no similar problems in Florida or Canada, where owner Frank Stronach also has breeding farms. Hall said the Kentucky division of Adena Springs has not had a problem yet this year. "What people are finding is that when the vets do manual palpations at 45 to 60 days, they are saying the mares are in foal," he said. Hall added the problem might have been uncovered when some farms used ultrasound on mares to determine the sex of the fetus, but instead discovered the mares had aborted or the fetus had died. "A lot of us are now scanning our mares for pregnancy," he said.