Fourth Stallion has CEM; Kentucky Farm and State Working Together

A fourth stallion that formerly stood at a Central Kentucky breeding facility, now identified as DeGraff Stables/Liberty Farm Equine Reproduction Center LLC, has tested positive for contagious equine metritis (CEM). Officials had considered this highly contagious venereal disease eradicated from the United States until it was identified during routine testing of a stallion earlier this month to qualify semen for exportation.


Watch a video interview on contagious equine metritis with Dr. Peter Timoney.
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Farm owner Robin DeGraff, business partner Libby Trucco, and Rusty Ford, equine programs manager in the office of Kentucky State Veterinarian Robert Stout, DVM, underscored the cooperative effort under way to diagnose, handle, and track the cases.

"This is truly a team effort," Ford stated. "We all have the same goal and are working toward it."

The University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center first detected Taylorella equigenitalis, the causative organism for CEM, in a culture from Quarter Horse stallion Potential Investment on Dec. 10, prior to his semen being exported to the European Union. Since then, all at-risk and exposed horses that remained on the farm have been quarantined.

Other stallions that have tested positive on preliminary cultures include:

  • Hot Lopin Sensation;
  • Indian Artifacts; and
  • Repeated in Red.

The remaining stallions at the facility are undergoing secondary cultures before they are bred to CEM-negative test mares to confirm their disease status.

Liberty Farm offered semen from 22 stallions during the 2008 breeding season. Featuring Quarter Horse World and Congress Champions, and the sires thereof, the business bred between 740 and 760 mares. While the stallions remaining in Kentucky (eight at Liberty Farm, one at another facility) have all been cultured, those that relocated to other states following the breeding season are on different timetables for testing.

However, the issue doesn't stop at the stallions--since Taylorella equigenitalis may be spread through infected semen, the more than 150 mares bred with semen from the infected stallions so far identified must now be tracked and quarantined, and be cultured a minimum of three times.

"We're trying to be very proactive with our customers," said DeGraff. "Right now what we're going through--and what the state is helping us with--is management and getting good information to the mare owners, because this is all new to them too."

Because all breeding took place via collection and artificial insemination, DeGraff said she's hopeful that transmission was minimized through the farm's use of semen extenders containing antibiotics. Fertility rates from the infected stallions were in the range of 75-80%, which leads her to think that the bacterium, which can cause infertility, was not widely transmitted.

Ford said state officials are continuing to investigate the mode of transmission that allowed Taylorella equigenitalis to spread between stallions on the farm.

"From the first time we reviewed the protocol (at Liberty Farm), I felt transmission within the facility was minimal," Ford said. "Their procedures appear standard--if there's a shortcoming in that standard, we would like to be able to identify it to prevent this from occurring in the future."

"There's been an outpouring of people who aren't even involved, asking what they can do to support us."
--Libby Trucco
Officials also are figuring out where the bacterium came from initially and how long it's been present in the farm's stallions. While the disease exists, or has been known to exist, in native equid populations in 25 countries around the world, the United States is considered free of this disease.

"We're leaving no stone unturned--or perhaps I should say, no tail unlifted--to find the source," Ford said, adding that the resources and researchers available through the nearby University of Kentucky have played a key role in identifying and managing of the cases. He emphasized that the investigation has not given any indication that the bacterium has moved out of the identified at-risk population, and when that population is declared free of the bacterium, "horse owners can have 100% confidence in that notification. I think when this is all said and done, Kentucky will still be the number one place to bring mares to breed."

Trucco, who has been manning the phones to notify owners of the situation, said the industry reaction so far has been mostly supportive.

"The majority want to do what's right and help us out," she noted. "And then there's been an outpouring of people who aren't even involved, asking what they can do to support us."

With the at-risk and exposed populations separated, the current plan at Liberty Farm is to proceed with the 2009 breeding season as restrictions allow. Some mare owners have already pledged to breed their animals as soon as their chosen stallions have been cleared.

DeGraff and Trucco are posting updates about the situation, along with a list of resources, on the farm's Web site.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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