Friday, May 11, 2001

Foal deaths begin to drop; cause unknown

By Steve Bailey
The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Scientists have settled on a name but not a definitive reason why foals are dying and mares are losing fetuses on central Kentucky horse farms.

        Although the number of dead foals presented to the University of Kentucky Livestock Diagnostic Center has dropped each of the past three days, researchers continue to be concerned about the unexplained presence of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome.

        “Although we still can't put a finger on an exact cause of the problem, I believe we have narrowed it down enough that we can concentrate on certain areas,” said Dr. David Powell, equine epidemiologist at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center.

        And for the first time, researchers acknowledged the illness may not be limited to Kentucky.

        “According to our most recent information, this syndrome may be occurring on a smaller scale in states north of Kentucky,” Dr. Powell said.

        Since April 28, a total of 382 dead foals and miscarried late-term fetuses have been presented to the livestock diagnostic center for testing.

        The daily numbers coming into the center have dropped, however, from 28 on Tuesday to 25 on Wednesday and 15 on Thursday, said Dr. Lenn Harrison, the live stock diagnostic center's director

        A survey answered by 159 central Kentucky farm managers also gives a snapshot of the early-term pregnancy losses as of Monday.

        The number of mares on the farms pregnant at least 42 days during the period was 3,294. Of those, 2,615 — or 79 percent — were still in foal as of Monday.

        Of those 159 farms, 37 reported no early-fetal losses, 17 had losses of more than 50 percent of their early-term pregnancies and the other 105 farms fell somewhere in the middle.

        Experts are focusing their clinical efforts in the pasture.

        Scientists theorize that Kentucky's warm, dry spring followed by several hard freezes and subsequent drought conditions allowed a fungus or toxin to develop in grasses eaten by horses.

        They are in the process of sampling fescue, bluegrass and clover from area farms and testing them for high levels of mycotoxins, mold- or fungus-produced toxins that can occur in pasture grasses.

        Some feed additives such as Mare-Guard, which is derived from yeast, may offer one of the first preventive treatments for the situation.

        Those products typically are used in other livestock — like cattle, hogs and chickens — to bind toxins in an animal's system and help the animal expel rather than absorb them.


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