Another round of cutbacks may see the number of equine ranches in Mani toba , Sa s k a t chewa n and North Dakota slashed to around 25, down from 64 last year.
The decl ine in the local industry that produces pregnant mares’ urine for use by drug manufactur ing giant Wyeth in a range of medications since the turn of the century has been dramatic, with the number of ranches falling from 400 at the absolute peak in 2003. At that time, the total herd numbered some 40,000 brood mares; the latest cuts will bring it down to just 2,000.
Last year seven contracts were cancelled.
“We had our annual meeting last week and the company did indicate that they are going to have a resizing again this year,” said Norm Luba, executive director of NAERIC, the North American Equine Ranching Information Council.
A buyout worth 75 per cent of a year’s production will be offered to ranchers who will not be offered a contract for the upcoming year.
Before a final decision is made on which ranches will have their contracts cancelled, the company last week was asking ranchers ready to retire to voluntarily take the buyout.
Letters would be going out to all producers this month informing them whether their contracts would be renewed for the upcoming collection season, said Luba.
All ranchers will have access to the company’s placement fund until the end of the year,
“We had our annual meeting last week and the company did indicate that they are going to have a resizing again this year.”
– NORM LUBA
which covers the cost of trucking horses further afield if necessary, so that they might be sold into “productive” or non-slaughter markets.
“They are continuing that program, which is above and beyond the 75 per cent buyout,” said Luba.
The company wants to retain smal ler farms, he added. Because contracts are based on the total grams of estrogen produced, there was talk of a “cut-off” that would allow no farms to produce more than 10,000 grams.
“For those people with less than 10,000 grams, there would be no change. Now if somebody was going out that had more, that might reduce the need for others to go out,” he said, adding that roughly a quarter of all ranches currently ship over that amount.
Heavy horses produce more grams of estrogen than their quarter-horse-sized counterparts, so breed may also come into play in the final outcome.
“At this point in time, we don’t know what the mix of light, heavy, or sport horses will be,” said Luba. The NAERIC sponsorship programs may have to be reevaluated, he added, as the number of foals produced each year drops and the mix of breeds changes.
There has been a precipitous decline in demand for premarin, which in 1993 was the most prescr ibed drug in North America. It still remains, however, the most popular hormone replacement therapy used to treat the symptoms of menopause.
Since the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study findings were released in 2002 – which reportedly found a link to adverse health effects from taking the drug – there has been a continuing reduction in consumer demand for hormone therapy products. Lower-dose requirements have also reduced the need for PMU as a raw material.
Wyeth was bought by drug giant Pfizer last fall in a $68-billion deal, but the companies are continuing to operate as separate entitites. [email protected]