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Farmers warned of toxic ergot contamination in feed grains

Experts are urging livestock farmers to be aware of feed grain that has been contaminated with the toxic fungal disease ergot.


Alex   Robinson

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Alex   Robinson
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Livestock farmers warned about toxic ergot disease #arable #farm365

Scotland’s Rural College (SRC) has warned that the wet and cool conditions seen in parts of the UK will have encouraged cereal flowers to open, increasing the risk of fungus contamination during the spring months.

 

The fungus takes over individual grains in the seed head which can be identified by their distinctive black colour.

 

Grain processed for human consumption undergoes careful screening procedures and any crop containing more than 0.01 grams of ergot per kilogram of grain is banned from the food chain.

 

Dr Basil Lowman of the College’s SAC consulting division said home grown crops fed to livestock are of the most concern.

 

He said: “we have had reports of raised ergot levels on some farms in the Lothians and Borders. Our research colleagues running the SRC Crop Clinic report receiving several samples from there with ergot. This would be consistent with their prolonged flowering season and local weather conditions”.

 


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Identifying ergot contamination

Poisoning is seen more commonly in cattle than sheep, as SAC consulting veterinary services Heather Stevenson discussed.

 

She said: “the most common form occurs where contaminated grain is fed over a long period. Initially animals may be seen to be lame and have mild diarrhea but later the toxins restrict the blood flow to the animal’s extremities, like the lower legs, tail and ears, which become gangrenous and, given time, would die and slough off. There is no treatment for ergot poisoning.”

 

Ergots are also extremely poisonous to humans so farmers or staff handling affected grain should always wear gloves and a mask and be extremely careful with processing grain.

Minimize risk: Six-point approach

  • Only feed to growing/finishing cattle, never to breeding cows or any sheep.
  • Never exceed the levels shown in the table.

Store cattle

Feed level of grain kg/day

1kg

2kg

3kg

Ergot/kg grain

1 ergots

0.5 ergots

0.3 ergots

Finishing

Feed level of grain kg/day

2kg

4kg

12kg

Ergots/kg grain

4 ergots

2 ergots

None

  • Always feed as little as possible, for example, by feeding it to more animals. Never feed higher levels to fewer animals.
  • Where possible do not process contaminated grain. Always take full precautions when handling the grain by wearing protective clothing, masks, etc.
  • Monitor stock closely and at the first signs of any of the symptoms stop feeding contaminated grain immediately.
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