Ergot Risk Warning

Colleagues in the SRUC Crop Clinic have highlighted an increased risk of ergot contamination of cereals following the cool, wet conditions earlier this year.   Any crop containing >0.01g ergot/kg is forbidden by law from being processed for human consumption but could be sold for animal feed.  There may also be a risk from home grown cereals.  The Crop Clinic has received several samples from Lothian and the Borders which contain ergot. 

• The best advice is not to feed contaminated grain to livestock in particular pregnant females.  
• Ergots are also poisonous to humans.   

Disease is reported more often in cattle than in sheep and can take the following forms:

1.  Chronic:  This is the most common form with animals becoming lame/recumbent after 2 to 6 weeks.  Diarrhoea can be seen.  The alkaloid toxins cause arteriolar constriction restricting blood flow to the extremities e.g. lower legs, tail and ears.  Affected areas become gangrenous and are initially swollen and feel cold to the touch.  Hair is lost and an indented line appears at the junction between normal and dying tissue.  This is not painful; the distal tissues become discoloured blue/black and will eventually slough.
The main differential diagnosis here is gangrene secondary to Salmonella Dublin infection.  

2. Acute:  Animals may appear drowsy and can stagger or fall. They may become temporarily blind/deaf and can have convulsions during which they may die.

3.  Hyperthermic:  Affected animals are pyrexic and may salivate and be tachypnoeic/dyspnoeic.  Milk production and growth rates are reduced.

Long term, low level feeding can reduce feed intakes and live weight gains.  Winter coats may not be shed.  Ulceration of the tongue, mouth, stomachs and intestines has been reported in sheep instead of limb gangrene.

Unfortunately there is no treatment for ergotism.

With reference from SAC Consulting.

Related SEV Branch