How many broodmares equal one show filly?

I recently learned of two lucrative and ugly industries related to horse health.  One involves production of a food product called “haylage” and the other involves a process called “equine embryo transfer” that is used for breeding horses.  On October 10, 2008, The Jurga Report, an online news service, described a tragedy involving the death of  “about 100” horses, all mares, at an embryo transfer factory in Ocala, Florida.  This facility, called Equitransfer, is owned and operated by two veterinarians, Jose Dávila, DVM, and his wife, Francis Ramirez, DVM.  According to a puff piece in Ocala Magazine, Equitransfer is the “largest equine reproductive facility in the Southeast.”

This breeding farm operates out of two or more locations that house 900 or so “broodmares” called “repicient mares” or “recips,” (one of the owners called them “surrogate mothers” in a television interview).  The recipient mares are used to carry foals for owners who do not wish to sideline their own mares to carry their own foals or who wish to obtain multiple babies from a single mare in a short period of time.  The broodmares, many of whom were “rescued,” at auctions according to Davila, are inseminated with embryos from eggs from donor mares and semen from donor studs.

Davila and Ramirez said they believed a hay product called “haylage” was responsible for the deaths. According to Wikihow, haylage is “a grass crop which is cut, harvested and stored for feeding farm animals.”  The hay is baled in large round bales then shrink wrapped.  Depending on whom you believe, this is either a superior food product that is widely and safely fed to horses in Europe, or is a cost-effective way of feeding cattle, but extremely risky for horses due to their more sensitive digestive systems.

The producer of the suspect haylage was not identified and the owners said they destroyed all of it because they did not want the producer to be implicated.  Regulators in Florida made a perfunctory investigation but seemed relatively unconcerned about the tragedy.  The state does not regulate feeding of haylage and the suspected cause of the deaths–botulism–is not contagious.

So, “approximately 100 horses” died in Florida earlier this month at a single location over a period of a couple of days from an illness that “is most likely botulism.”  All of the haylage that may have contained the botulism was supposedly “destroyed” and the case is closed before it was ever opened on the death of “about 100” horses.

The owners of the donor mares sign a contract with the embryo transfer facility that provides for thousands of dollars in fees per horse.  I could not tell from the contract how the dollars add up but the numbers are significant.  Television news channel reported that the owners (who said they lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” due to what they called “the incident”) were “devastated” by the deaths of the horses.  Actually, veterinarian and facility co-owner Francis Ramirez said it was “a surprise.”


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