Ergot infected pasture grasses (brome, timothy, wheat, quack grasses) are a problem this year. Ergotty forage grasses are particularly visible along fence lines, in wet areas, and in the ditches. Cool temperatures and wet conditions during the flowering stage of grains and grasses can enhance fungal invasion by Claviceps purpurea.
Ergot or the dark sclerotia bodies can contain various concentrations of powerful alkaloids capable of causing vasoconstriction and gangrene of extremities – lower limbs, tails, and ear margins of livestock. The ergot alkaloids can also result in poor growth and poor reproduction, difficult thermoregulation, and poor milk production.
Because the ergot alkaloid content of ergot sclerotia varies greatly, it’s best to test suspect forages, small cereal grains, or screenings for the alkaloids, with ergot concentrations less than 1 ppm possibly causing problems in livestock. NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic lab tests for ergot alkaloids. Visit our test page for more information.
Brett Webb, DVM, PhD, DACVP