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JUSTICE FOR OWNERS OF 18 BOTULISM DEATH HORSES

This statement is released on behalf of 9 owners of beloved horses and ponies.

From the evening of 13 October 2020 horses liveried at Clough House Liveries, Soyland, Ripponden, Sowerby Bridge became unwell, the first horse was originally thought to be showing signs of choking.

In a victory for the owners, Kevin Horsefall, the owner of Clough House Liveries who also produced the haylage in question, made an out of court settlement to each of the horse owners last week.

The official findings are as follows:-
The treating vets concluded that the bacterium clostridiuom botulinum ingested via the haylage that had been produced and supplied by the livery yard owner was the cause of each horse’s death. Clough House Liveries accepted that the affected animals had eaten from the same bale of haylage prior to displaying clinical signs and that a court would be likely to infer from this that the toxin originated from a bale of Mr Horsefall’s insured’s home- produced haylage. The report confirms that the quality of the haylage, that was supplied and made by Clough house liveries, was found to contain soil contamination and not animal carcass. This evidence was provided by both vet and followed up with
photographic evidence.

Jacqui Dark of Equine Law UK, Solicitor for 8 of the horse owners confirms that the owner of Clough House Liveries, Mr Kevin Horsefall, made an out of court settlement to each of the horse owners last week. Jacqui commented that the settlement by no means comforts the distress that each of the owners have suffered, many who still have not been able to replace their horses.

The owners have released this information to raise awareness to horse owners and livery yard providers of the dangers of feeding poorly made haylage.

Clare McLeod (Horse Nutrition, Health and Fitness Expert) who assisted the Claimants in their claim says “It is crucial that haylage is kept airtight since this is key to avoid spoilage. Unlike silage, the grass in haylage is not preserved solely due to bacterial fermentation and the resulting acidity but depends on being airtight for its preservation. If air gets into a bale of haylage, the result will be heating of the forage from the growth of moulds and bacteria, which may be pathogenic (disease-causing).”

Eight layers of plastic wrap or more are recommended to ensure that haylage does not become punctured – letting in air and therefore causing spoilage – during handling, transportation and storage. Some producers use up to 20 layers, especially on drier forages with stiffer stems.

Botulism is the term used to describe the disease caused by the neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. A very small amount of the toxin is fatal to horses. C botulinum is ubiquitous in the environment, being found in soil and in high concentrations in decaying vegetation and animal carcasses.

There is a risk of C. botulinum poisoning in fermented wrapped forages, and big bale hay, if the quality of either is poor.

In well preserved silage or haylage botulism is highly unlikely as the pH is too low (silage) and the water activity too low (haylage).
Botulism outbreaks in horses have been reported from feeding big bale silage and haylage, and also hay and other feeds – but in most cases where the feed or forage was identified as a source of the neurotoxin, there was spoilage, carcass or soil contamination. Typically botulism from forage occurs from contamination with soil, animal carcasses or poultry slurry, or from rotting due to poor quality wrapped forages not being preserved thoroughly, or hay not being stored correctly.

GOOD PRACTICE
Specific areas of quality control that reduce the risk of C. botulinum contamination of
haylage, which would be undertaken by haylage manufacturers with good practice include:-
1. Careful harvesting techniques to reduce the risk of contamination of the bales with soil,
including grass cutting at 10cm or higher, taking care over raking, and not harvesting when
the ground is wet and muddy (especially late in the season i.e. after August).
2. Cutting the crop across the field to allow small mammals more chance to escape, thus
reducing the risk of animal carcasses in the finished forage.
3. Wilting the forage for 36 to 48 hours before wrapping to ensure a high enough dry matter
(low dry matter and high pH are a risk).
4. Not using poultry slurry on pasture that is destined for haylage production, and avoiding
harvesting after the application of any slurry.
5. Wrapping with sufficient layers of plastic to ensure an airtight seal during handling,
transportation and storage (such wrapping would not be able to be removed or punctured by
human hands).
6. Handling, storing and transporting with care to avoid puncture, and disposal of any punctured bales.
7. Prompt removal and replacement of any bales showing any spoilage immediately on
opening, including moulding, unusual smell (including ammonia smell) or any rotten areas”.

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