10 September 1999

Ergot worries in Scottish cereals

ERGOT, a toxic fungus in cereals, is a concern in Scotland this year and may be elsewhere in the UK. It poses a threat to livestock, and producers should avoid feeding affected cereals where possible.

SAC nutritionist Mitch Lewis says ergot, which looks like rat droppings, is particularly prevalent in Maraise barley, but may also be present in other varieties.

SAC beef specialist Basil Lowman says the best advice is to avoid feeding these cereals. "Ergot contains alkaloid toxins which are very potent and can kill stock."

However, if producers decide to feed affected cereal, they must first work out how much ergot is present, says Dr Lewis. "There appears to be a safe feeding level of 0.1% – about two affected grains in every 1000 – in rations with a low cereal inclusion rate."

But, for diets high in cereals, more care is required, he says. "In Australia, cattle in a feedlot were fed cereals containing 0.06% ergot; of the 1700 cattle on the lot, 11 died and 85% showed symptoms of alkaloid poisoning.

"Ensure cereal-based rations contain less than 0.05% ergot. If its more, either dump it or dilute it with other feeds. Also, look closely for symptoms of alkaloid poisoning among cattle, which include scouring, rapid breathing and high temperature," advises Dr Lewis.