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Ergot A Serious Problem In Feed This Year

An Alber ta forage specialist is warning livestock feeders to be on the lookout

for ergot in this year’s grain crop because of cool, damp weather.

“Airborne ergot spores from previous crops infected the developing heads. This year, there’s a problem with not only

rye, but triticale, wheat, barley, oats and even some

of the grasses; producers are finding that ergots are

present at much higher levels than usually seen in all of

these crop types,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and

Rural Development.

Ergot causes three serious problems when fed to an animal. For females in the breeding herd, any ergot in grain or hay will cause an abortion. This applies to not just cows, but horses, pigs and chickens as well. All of these animals will be affected if given feed that contains ergot. Tolerance is zero for ergot for hogs.

Whenindoubtdilute,asitis bettertobeonthesafeside.”

– barry yaremcio, aard

For other species, the maximum limit is one kernel per 1,000 or 0.1 per cent by weight. In cattle, you can allow a maximum of 12 g of ergot consumption per day – that’s a quarter of an ounce.

“It’s easy to see that it doesn’t take much ergot to start causing problems. It may take six to eight weeks, but problems will start showing up,” says Yaremcio.

Some feed mills are not accepting ergot levels above 0.04 to 0.06 per cent in purchased grains. This is to reduce risk to those purchasing complete feeds and pelleted rations.

When it comes to swath grazing, there is no easy way to measure for ergot. On a case-by-case, field-by-field basis, producers will have to evaluate their swaths, pulling them apart, calculating how much ergot is present and making a judgment call.

“If a swath looks like it may contain borderline toxic levels of ergot, dilute out the ergot level by feeding forage that does not have ergot. When in doubt dilute, as it is better to be on the safe side,” says Yaremcio. “This means diluting the feed with other feeds that are ergot free, and not giving the livestock full feed on the swath grazing material.”

A Manitoba Agriculture fact sheet on ergot can be found at

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