Mare loss: Help, but still no cause

SALEM, Ohio – More than a year after a reproductive disaster struck Kentucky horses, breeders may finally have a ray of hope for recovering financial damages.

The mysterious ailment pummeled the equine industry last year, causing hundreds of stillbirths, early fetal losses and late-term abortions in mares.

The cause and cure for the mare reproductive loss syndrome are still unknown.

Finding help. The USDA program will allow horse breeders to borrow money so they can replace mares and foals lost or disabled by the syndrome.

The program provides low-interest loans to qualifying breeders. Loan applications must be filed at a local Farm Service Agency by Sept. 30.

Although similar fetal losses in horses have occurred in the past, it beset Kentucky with a vengeance last year. Kentucky felt the brunt of the malady, however, it also struck Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.

Loaning money. Under the loan program, breeders can borrow money to pay ordinary and necessary expenses related to the horse breeding business; purchase or lease pasture when his or her pasture has been deemed able to cause the syndrome; pay or refinance debts directly related to the horse breeding business; and pay loan-closing costs.

To be eligible, the applicant must generate more than 70 percent of his or her income from breeding, boarding, raising or selling horses.

Another criterion is that the applicant must have had at least 30 percent of the horses owned or boarded on the farm fail to conceive, abort or produce an unhealthy horse due to the syndrome in 2000-2002.

Because the syndrome is hard to diagnosis, the Farm Service Agency will rely on a veterinarian’s certificate on the cause of death, according to Steve Wescott, agency public affairs spokesman.

The loan program is designed to help those with financial hardship, so the assistance is only available to those who are unable to obtain credit from other lenders.

Staggering. According to the University of Kentucky, the syndrome “resulted in the loss of nearly 500 late-term pregnancies during the spring of 2001 and approximately 2,000 early fetal losses.”

Although this year’s statistics aren’t as staggering as last year’s, the problem is still plaguing some breeders. According to the University of Kentucky’s most recent report June 29, 165 abortions submitted to the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center this year were caused by the syndrome.

The cause of mare loss reproductive syndrome is unknown; however, research is being done at the University of Kentucky to determine the connection between fetal loss and the eastern tent caterpillar.

Another theory for the deaths involves toxins produced by molds or fungi in pastures.

For more information regarding the loans, visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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