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Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome

Field Reports from Farm Managers
  • Steve Johnson, manager/partner of Margaux Farm, provides comments following second Information Sharing Meeting at Keeneland on May 24.

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  • Bobby Miller, manager of Walmac Farm, gives a status report for his farm for May 23.

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  • Jeanne Cox-Owens, general manager of Cobra Farms, updates the status of her farms, May 22.

  • Listen to Jeanne Cox-Owens (wav file)
  • Gary Bush, manager of Winstar Farm, gives a status report for his farm, May 20.

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  • Gerry O'Meara, manager of Glennwood Farm, updates the status of his farm, May 19.

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    • Suzi Shoemaker, owner and manager of Lantern Hill Farm, provides status report for her farm, May 18.

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    • Suzi Shoemaker offers advice and encouragement to other owners and managers, May 18.

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    • Gus Koch, assistant manager Claiborne Farm, updates status at his farm, May 17.

    • Listen to Gus Koch (wav file)
      (Note to broadcasters: Koch is pronounced "Cook.")
    • Dan Rosenberg offers advice and encouragement to other owners and managers, May 17.

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    Bobby Miller, manager of Walmac Farm, gives a status report for his farm for May 23.

    Yes, we are still seeing it. For instance I checked a mare yesterday that was 65 days in foal -- or she would have been 65 days -- and it was gone away. She was in foal six days before that.

    Q. What else are you seeing?

    A. Well, we've had the same things as everybody. We've had some red bags but not recently, not in the last couple of weeks.

    Q. Are you seeing any other kinds of health problems in horses other than the mares?

    A. No, I've not experienced that.

    Q. Do you have a sense that the problem is slowing down?

    A. Yes, I don't think the problem exists anymore. Whatever is done is done. But these mares, early-bred mares, are going to continue to probably go away if bred before the middle of April.

    Q. What are you doing in terms of management?

    A. We are doing about what everybody is doing. We're doing the binder, the yeast supplement, feeding that, and that's about it.


    Jeanne Cox-Owens, general manager of Cobra Farms, updates status of her farms, May 22.
    (audio)(wav file)

    Right now we've only had one early fetal loss at 65 days out of 16 mares that are past the 60-day mark and a total of 35 mares that are pronounced in foal.

    Q:  Do you have a sense that the situation is slowing or improving at all?

    A:  I feel like it is improving.  We haven't experienced that many problems.... we had our last three foals during Derby week and they were all delivered normally and since then we have had only the one loss.  We do feed the Fast Track and we contribute possibly that what might be what has helped us.

    Q:  What other management steps are you taking?

    A:  Well we are keeping the pastures mowed which we always have and we typically kept the fields mowed pretty short, especially during the months of April and May because we have a lot of people in and out of town with the Keeneland meet and then the Derby so it is just part of grooming the farm.

    Q:  Have you seen any other health problems other than in the mares that might be related to the syndrome problem?

    A:  No, not any at all.

    Q:  Any words of advice to other owners and managers?

    A:  At this point I don't think anybody knows what the problem was and I think until the scientific community can come up with an answer if they ever find one, I think that we just have to do the best that we can, and I would think that includes pasture management. We are keeping the horses up at night which we wouldn't be doing this time of year if we didn't have this problem.  I don't have any other words of wisdom.  I'm just using the Fast Track, not because I knew it was going to work for this but it seems to be the thing if it is a yeast-based product that they're putting in the Mare Guard that the other companies are coming out with, then I guess that's probably what helped us.  I was feeding it because of the micro-nutrients and things like that in it, not so much because I knew it was going to bind with the toxins.


    Peter Taaffe, owner of Taaffe farm, provides update for his farm, May 21.
    (audio)(wav file)

    We've foaled out all our mares for this year the 2001 foals.  We did have one red bag but the last few were fine.  We have not had any recent early fetal losses on any mares over 42 days in the last week.  I have checked about half of them I suppose on 60-day checks and they seem to be fine.  I haven't lost any of the ones that were carrying at 42 days, they seem to be fine now at 60 days.  So no new developments in the past week anyway, no new losses.  But we did originally when we went through our checks last week when this was breaking, we did have quite a few losses of mares over 60 days -- their pregnancies over 60 days that is.

    Q: What are you doing in terms of management?

    A: I've got any of my mares that are 42 days-plus that are confirmed pregnant at the moment on mowed fields.  Everybody on the farm including, including the young stock, are getting the MareGuard once a day, one cup/one pound. And I did have some of my late-foaling mares on the domperidone, and interestingly enough as a side note is that I noticed the other day we had one red bag but we had three normal foalings after that. But of the last two the second having been foaled just yesterday both the last two had low IGG levels. Although it appeared at the time they were fine they both had low IGG levels, which I've since heard some other people question about the domperidone effect.  But that's a side note.  We did have live foals and that's the important thing.  Other than that, I've given some banomine to the mare with the eye condition and she is pregnant but at a very early stage.  There was a mare that was questionable and we were wondering about.  She was at 71 days when we noticed this and I gave her one five-day dose of domperidone, but I'm not going to continue it.  She's a barren mare, a dry mare if you like and I don't want to... I'm concerned about her producing milk and the risk of getting mastitis.


    Peter Taaffe responds to questions regarding maiden mares, May 21.
    (audio)(wav file)

    Q: Have you noticed the maiden mares being any more sensitive to the (syndrome) problem?

    A: Actually no.  I guess I don't have too many maiden mares on the farm this year.  Of the maidens we have, one did come up empty and I think when we noticed her she was at 68 days.  Another maiden, though, had not conceived upon her first jump so it's too early to say if there's any problem there.  And another maiden mare did not conceive either, that's true. But I don't know there's any, I mean, my other conception rate at the moment in the last two weeks has been very good.  We're getting most of the mares pregnant at the moment.

    Q: So is there room for some optimism here?

    A: I would like to believe so.  Certainly with the rain, having gotten more than three inches around the area here I'd like to believe anyway that it's washed away whatever mold or fungus that might have been on the grasses -- might have washed down into the soil so that it's temporary relief and I'd certainly like to believe so.  But, that's just a guess.  We don't even know for sure exactly what's causing it yet.  So I'm optimistic in that we haven't seen any, but again I'm always a little concerned about the insult that the mares in pregnancy have already received and what that has done to their fetuses and how compromised they might be.  Because we don't know what we're dealing with, we don't know do we?  So I'm optimistic to a point.


    Gary Bush, manager of Winstar Farm, gives a status report for his farm, May 20.
    (audio)(wav file)

    We're pretty much stable at the moment I feel.  We're moving forward as far as mares getting in foal.  We haven't lost any pregnancies over the last week or so that we weren't expecting to lose anyway.  So I think we're stable at the moment.

    Q: What are you doing in terms of managing the problem?

    A:  Basically, just like everyone else, we're trying to limit the amount of time out on the grass just in case the mycotoxin is definitely the problem.  Instead of being out 22 - 24 hours a day, our mares are out maybe six hours a day on the grass.  We're using the binder as a feed supplement and, just like everyone else, we're just trying to watch everything that's going on with them.  It seems to have slowed, but I feel like there probably still may be some pregnancies that everyone may lose, but the good thing is that the mares we are checking for new pregnancies are in foal and hopefully that will continue.  And if we can continue to slow down losing the pregnancies we're going to end up okay.

    Q: Obviously this has been devastating to many people and farms, but can we still be optimistic about the future?

    A: We have to be optimistic.  I feel we've had tough times in the past in this business and we're going to have tough times in the future, but we have to remain optimistic and understand that we must all work together and come through this as a team.  It's not affecting just any one particular area, it's affecting everyone, and in order for us to survive this and move forward we must be positive and work together.


    Gerry O'Meara, manager of Glennwood Farm, updates the status of his farm, May 19.
    (audio)(wav file)

    We have been hit like several other farms and we are baffled at this stage as to what it may be.  We've taken our horses off the pasture and put them in barns. We put them out basically right now in dry lots.  We put the mares on domperidone and are also feeding the supplement. And that's where we are at.

    Q: Do you have a sense on whether it is stabilizing or slowing down?

    A: I haven't spoken to my veterinarian this morning.  His theory right now is that it is slowing down.  It appears to be slowing down most definitely.

    Q: Have you seen any other health problems in horses other than mares that might be related?

    A: I haven't but I'm told there are a lot of problems out there with periocarditis.  But, knock on wood, we haven't had any problems with that

    Q: Any advice or words of encouragement to other owners or managers?

    A: Without a doubt this has been a devastating loss for several owners and farm managers, and I think the only thing we can do at this stage is to be as cooperative as we can with the Gluck Center and everybody else who participates and bond together and do the best we can to dig ourselves out of this one.


    Suzi Shoemaker, owner and manager of Lantern Hill Farm, provides status report for her farm, May 18.

    Right now we've been extremely fortunate. We've foaled about 30 mares this year and when this syndrome hit we only had one mare left to foal.  She has foaled successfully so we've essentially had no problems in the foal crop of 2001. We have about 20 mares out of 60 total that we've bred this year that are in the risk group of 35 to 90 days of pregnancy.  All of those mares so far have scanned pregnant within the last three to four days.  Now, having said that, I will say that we have three mares that are 90-plus days that have shown the characteristic cloudy fluid around the fetus, so we're watching them very carefully.  We still have heartbeats on those foals and I'm told that practitioners are now seeing foals that are surviving with that cloudy amniotic fluid, so I don't know if we're going to lose those three or not.  But so far the effects here are limited to those three mares.

    Q: What management steps are you taking to help the situation?

    A: My theory from the beginning has been centered around an endophyte.  I know mycotoxins are the leading theory and it may be a combination of several factors.  I basically use a lot of domperidone on this farm anyway, simply because we knew we had an endophyte problem several years ago and I have a policy that any mares that are behind on their lactation, two weeks before their due date they are just naturally put on domperidone.  So, I naturally use more of it in the course of events than the average farm, so I think that's why I didn't have any problems in this foal crop.  In terms of other management practices, we've adopted a policy of putting all our mares on domperidone from 35 days of pregnancy and up and we've of course clipped our pastures.  We tend to keep our pastures a little bit shorter and like to keep yearlings, in particular, on less lush grass this time of year.  I've moved mares into lesser fields, fields that didn't have as much grass and I have one beautiful 25-acre field that's been mowed, but I'm not using it right now because I'm afraid there's just too much grass out there. So those are a couple of the things I'm doing, it's less grass and domperidone and of course I'm using the yeast by-product that has been recommended.  You know, as recommended we've gone ahead and put our mares on that.  I don' t have any problems in yearlings yet and have not seen any eye problems.  I suspect that this farm my farm is at a fairly high elevation in Midway I noticed that some of our flowers were behind other farms and our seed heads on our fescue may not have been as developed.  Maybe it's a couple degrees cooler on this farm, I don't know.  But I don't think we were as far advanced in terms of the plant life as maybe some of the other farms.  That may be why we've gotten off relatively light with this.


    Suzi Shoemaker offers advice and encouragement to other owners and managers, May 18.

    I definitely would say that there's been a general air of panic over this and it seems like something that is so extreme and so unusual.  But the reports I'm hearing from fellow managers are more like losses in the range of 20 percent rather than the 50 to 75 percent we were hearing early on.  I think a lot of those numbers were skewed, just by the fact that we were checking those high-risk mares.  It seems to have abated. I have not talked to anyone who's lost any foals recently, meaning foals of 2001.  I'm hearing some reports of mares that are 90-plus days in foal are able to maintain pregnancies even with this cloudy amniotic fluid. Whether that's an actual benefit or not remains to be seen, we're making this up as we go along, but I think anyone in farming is well-aware that we deal with incredible risks from weather and viruses, diseases, every kind of natural disaster.  We're the first ones to feel it but it seems like the bad things come but so do the good things, and I think most of us are going to do just fine.


    Gus Koch, assistant manager Claiborne Farm, updates status at his farm, May 17.
    (audio)(wav file)
    (Note to broadcasters: Koch is pronounced "Cook.")

    We've had one red bag foaling and we lost that foal, which compares to one red bag foal during last year's foaling season. So we feel like we've done very well in the foaling barn.  All our mares are on domperidone either 10 or 15 days before their due date, and things are going along pretty good in the foaling barn.  On the other end with the early fetal losses, we have 64 mares that are over 60 days of pregnancy and we have lost 15 pregnancies.  So we have lost 23.4 percent.  The significant statistic on this farm is that we've lost 64.7 percent of our maiden mare pregnancies, it has just hammered us in maiden mares.  We've lost 11 out of 17 maiden mare pregnancies.

    Q:  Do you have any sense that things are getting better?

    A:  No sir.  We found one yesterday and one today, so we continue to see it.  Of course we had the big group when we checked them on the weekend of the 5th, Derby weekend, we found ten that weekend.  But now as mares continue to come up to that 60 day mark and as we do the second round on some of those mares that we checked on the weekend of the 5th, we're finding more.  And we have found one yesterday and one today, so our losses continue.  Even though it's slowed it hasn't stopped.

    Q:  Are you detecting other kinds of health problems in horses other than mares?

    A:  We have had no other problems on Claiborne Farm.


    Gus Koch comments on how his farm is managing the problem, May 17.
    (audio)(wav file)

    I'll tell you what we're doing we're not sure if it's right, but we're trying to take our best hold on this.  We are feeding the Hallmark feed supplement called MareGuard which is a pellet and a binder which is supposed to absorb the mycotoxins as they go through the digestive system.  So we have every horse on the farm on a pound a day of the MareGuard.  The foals of course are slow to get on it, they're not eating that much.  But the plan is to gradually get the foals eating this product too.  The other thing we've done is as mares are examining with foal at 35 days we're putting them on the domperidone just on the hope that since this does work so well in the foals we're convinced here that it does help with fescue toxicity which we've had a lot of trouble with on this farm in its recent history and it works very well for us.  So we're thinking if this is a similar problem with early fetal loss perhaps the domperidone will help. So we're putting the mares on it at 35 days and that's open-ended right now I don't know when we'll get them off.  It depends on when it looks like this window is where these mares are subject to the damage, whether this was a one-time insult or if it's continuing on now.  And, indeed, maybe someone will prove it has nothing to do with the domperidone.  So we don't know when they're going to come off of it right now.

    Q:  Any words of advice or encouragement to other managers?

    A:  I just have a question for other managers, and that is "what about your maiden mares?"  If anybody out there and I've asked a lot of people, and nobody has told me they were having the same experience we are 11 out of 15 of our losses have been in the maiden mares.  And our thinking is that maiden mares typically are a more sensitive group.  We get more eye problems with them and I'm not talking about eye problems this year, I'm talking in the past because we haven't had any eye problems this year we get more eye problems, we get more dew poisoning which is a photosensitization, we get more rain scald, we get the dermititus up on their backs maiden mares to us are a more sensitive group, and I just wonder if this is a sensitivity thing and these young maiden mares maybe don't have any resistance to what's causing this because it is very heavy in our maiden mares.


    Dan Rosenberg, president of Three Chimneys Farm, provides a status report for his farm, May 17.
    (audio)(wav file)

    The situation is fluid but it seems to me that the incidence of pregnancy loss is slowing down substantially.  I am reluctant to say anything definitive at this time, but I am cautiously hopeful that the worst of it is behind us.

    Q:  One of the managers mentioned to us that he's seeing the problem more heavily in maiden mares, have you heard of this or have you experienced that situation?

    A:  I have heard of this and I can't really speak to what other people are experiencing.  I will say that it appears to me that rather than saying it is more prevalent in maiden mares or foaling mares, it appears to me when the mare was bred seems to be critical.  And, at the first two weeks of the breeding season, that was the period where the mares were more severely affected.  There's a higher percentage of maiden and barren mares bred in that first two-week period than there are foaling mares.

    Q:  Are you seeing any other health problems in other horses besides the mares, that could be related?

    A:  Knock on wood.  So far the answer to that is no, we have not seen any of the problems that have been reported or associated with this.

    Q:  What are you doing in terms of your management?  Anything different that you could share with other managers and owners?

    A:  We're not doing anything very different or very magic than probably what most people are doing which is essentially following the recommendations of the Kentucky Veterinary Medicine Association and the Gluck Center. We are restricting access to pasture, although we are not going so far as to deny access to pasture.  We are feeding the binder supplement in hopes to bind the mycotoxin in the gut, if in fact it is there.  We have put all our pregnant mares on domperidone and regumate and other than that no real significant changes in our management.


    Dan Rosenberg offers advice and encouragement to other owners and managers, May 17.

    A word of encouragement would be that we have gotten through other crises in the past. I hate to feel like one of the old guys and one of the gray hairs, but we've been through crises in the past and we've gotten through them and we've made enormous progress in a very short period of time in understanding this problem.  I think we will get to the bottom of it and we will get through this crisis and we will not only survive, but learn a great deal from it.  This is not the end of the world and it's certainly not the end of the horse business.  Words of advice I would say are don't react to rumor and speculation, try to deal with facts.


    Dan Hall, general manager of Adena Springs Farm, May 16.
    (wav file)

    It's a little difficult to interpret at this point.  We went through last week and checked all of our mares that were between 30 and 90 days of pregnancy.  So we got our initial effect as far as the early fetal loss portion of the syndrome goes.  And right now we're just beginning to start rechecking some of those and we haven't seen anything additional so far, but I think it's probably too early to say that we've definitely had a slowdown in that area.  In regard to the late-term stillbirth or red bag deliveries, we had not had any until this past Sunday in which we had one.  So in our situation it's, like I said, it's difficult to say that it's slowed down.

    Q: Are you seeing any health problem in your horses other than pregnant mares that may be related to this?

    A: We've had a couple of eye problems in foals that may or may not be attributed to the same problem, but we suspect that at least one of them possibly is.  The early fetal loss that we've seen here on our farms has been restricted to about four fields and this particular eye problem with a foal came from one of those fields as well.

    Q: Dan, are you doing anything different in terms of management that you could share with other managers?

    A: Probably nothing different than anyone else is doing right now.  In our case it appears anyway that we were limited to certain fields, so we've moved off of those fields.  And of course we're feeding the mycotoxin binder along with our regular feed now.  But as far as actually restricting time out on pasture we have not done that except with our stallions and we just changed them over from being out during the day instead of at night as we were before so that does reduce their time out a bit.  Otherwise we've really done nothing.  We've got one mare left to foal so we've started her on bactrum and the domperidone, you know, basically the same things I'm sure most everybody else is doing.

    Q: Finally Dan, do you have any words of advice or encouragement for other managers?

    A: We're trying to be optimistic in that we hope that it is a thing that's passed on, that it was an environmental issue and that the conditions have changed and hope to not see any more of the problem.  That would be the only encouraging thing I would hope to offer, but even at that, that's just based on optimism.  And as far as any other advice, no, I guess not.  Nothing other than what's out there already.


    Frank Taylor, general manager of Taylor Made Farm gives a status report for his farm, May 15.
    (audio)(wav file)

    Well, I think that the late term abortions or fetal death is going very well right now.  We've had 15 live foals in a row that have been healthy.  Prior to that we had a streak of about 2 weeks where we had 28 foals and we lost 7 of them. So we were losing at a pretty good rate, but the last 15 have been healthy and good, and so I'm only down to about 9 mares left to I me that's looking good.  As far as the abortions at 60 days, I think it's starting to get better. We're tracking our pregnancies at two week intervals, like the first two weeks of the season, the second two weeks, the third two weeks, and just breaking it down like that.  And our numbers look bad in the... from Feb 10 to 28th we were losing over 70%. From March 1 to March 14, those pregnancies that were conceived there, we've lost 43% of them.  Then you go from March 15 to March 31, those pregnancies there look good, we lost 14% of them and then everything from April 1st through today, the ones that have been checked in foal, everything's been looking normal.  So I wanna interpret that as good numbers that on a bell curve of getting better but I think it's gonna take another week or 10 days to be sure of that.  But I think to me it's looking positive

    Q: Are you seeing any related or possibly related problems in horses other than pregnant mares?

    A: I have not seen it, we're looking at about 650 horses here under our care, we have not seen any eye problems and we have not seen any heart problems.  I'm actually going through checking a barn a day just listening to their hearts and so far we've not seen any signs or heard any abnormal hearts.  So, I know that there's been 30 ...or I've heard that there's been about 30 cases out there, which has been alarming. But when you think about how many horses are in Kentucky and there's 30 cases, it's not a very big percentage. But I'm afraid that people may be kind of panicking and I hope they don't continue to have a lot of cases. Thirty cases is significant but I don't think it's a disaster by any means.


    Frank Taylor shares management strategies, May 15.
    (audio)(wav file)

    Q: Are you doing anything different in terms of your management that you could share with other owners and managers?

    A: I've tried different things in different areas.  I've tried with a set of 10 mares that have held their pregnancies or like up there at 80 days.  I just basically scatter muck up on a field and cover it up where they didn't get any grass and I've been keeping them out there and feeding them free choice and grain.  We put in our feed the Mare Guard supplement, and one division I'm doing what Dr. Riddle said by putting them on domperidone for the early pregnancies, banomine for 5 days, and keeping them on smz's.  But that's a small test group I'm doing.  For the other groups...I'm kind of just keeping them on a regular routine mares and foals out at night not changing anything, so we've kind of taken a three-prong approach to get comparisons of how things go.


    Ron Wallace, president of Equine Farm Management, Inc., gives a status report for his farms, May 15.
    (audio)(wav file)

    None of our farms have had a major impact. But it's kind of hard to tell because their populations are not big populated farms, you know 12 to 15 mares.  Some are as high as 50 but it hasn't been a big impact.  I think we've had one or two instances on each farm of fetal loss.  We've had no term foal losses or problems. We do have one yearling with the eye problem and it is a ship in, but it has a very bad eye problem

    Q: Are you doing anything different in terms of management?

    A:  I wish I knew I don't have ..right at this present we don't know anything.  We've had them on this Fastrack, the thing they are talking about - the binder, and most of our farms are mowed quite regularly.  We've always been watchful for fescue.  Other than that I don't know what we would be doing any different than anyone else.  You know it's just one of the other factors we're always fighting.  There's always something new and hopefully it'll breeze through we'll get over the hurdle and ideally, hopefully we'll find something.  I mean that's the hardest thing with this whole thing is that we don't have a solution.


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