Ergot August 2018

It is important to visually monitor livestock feed for the presence of ergot sclerotia, that can develop in cereal grains and a variety of grasses. (NDSU Photo)

We are now in the middle of fair season which means that summer is drawing nearer to a close. I don’t know about you, but my summer project to-do list is probably longer now than it was this spring. I guess that means not everything will get done, so we need to prioritize the list and do what we can. Here are some things you may want to be thinking about this time of year as you develop a management plan for your livestock.

Many spring-calving cow-calf operations are getting ready to vaccinate calves and castrate and dehorn, if that has not been done already. The main focus of the vaccinations is usually preventing respiratory disease before and after weaning. However, there are several different options for vaccines to use between intranasals and injectables, so be sure to discuss with your veterinarian what is the best fit for your operation. As you take calves off grass it is a good time for de-worming, so visit with your veterinarian on a de-worming protocol also.

Eric Knock

Eric Knock

Another project that has kept the crews at our clinic busy lately is ultrasound pregnancy testing heifers and cows. One important point to remember here is if you are interested in ultrasounding to stage pregnancies and the cow or heifer is too far along it is generally harder to accurately stage the pregnancy. We generally want the pregnancies to be less than 100 days in order to get the best image to stage the pregnancies.

One timely topic that we have been dealing with in our area is ergot. You may have noticed in your herd or have heard someone else talk about cattle losing the ends of their tails. While this syndrome can have multiple causes, one possibility is ergot poisoning.

Ergot is a type of fungus that grows on the seedhead of the small grains and some grasses. It is more common to see in wet years. Ergot infection results in what is called an “ergot body” forming on the seedhead. It is typically very dark and much larger than a typical seed. Wheat, oats, barley and triticale can all be infected, as well as bromegrass, downy brome or wheatgrass.

It’s relatively easy to find the ergot bodies if they’re present in grasses and grains, but the levels of ergot alkaloids may vary. There might be situations in which you would want to quantify the amount of ergot alkaloids in hay (baled after grasses have headed out) or in feed grain. It is possible to send a sample off to determine what the level of ergot alkaloids are present in a particular feed source. If the crop got rejected at the elevator, feeding it to livestock is still an option, but this needs to be managed carefully.

Ergot alkaloids cause four different types of toxicosis: gangrenous, hypothermic, convulsive and reproductive. Reproductive may be the most common type of toxicosis, and caused by a combination of the following factors. Ergot alkaloids negatively affect oocyte and sperm quality and can also interfere with conception and embryo development. Another symptom can be agalactia, which is poor milk production or cows and heifers not lactating when they should. One of the biggest problems with ergot is that there is no way to test tissues or samples from a cow to determine if ergot caused the cow to be open.

Good luck to everyone who is exhibiting and competing at the area’s county and state fairs.

Eric Knock owns and operates Prairie View Vet Clinic in Miller, Redfield, Wessington Springs and Highmore, S.D.