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Ergot fungus in grain

Beef cow

SRUC experts are urging livestock farmers to beware of an increased risk posed by feed grain contaminated with ergot - a fungal disease that can be toxic to animals or humans.

While the best advice is not to feed grain contaminated with ergot to livestock, for farmers unsure of their exact position SAC Consulting recommends a six point approach to minimising any risk:

  • Assess as accurately as you can the level of contamination in the grain in terms of ergot pods per kg of grain. This can be most simply done by taking a dozen 1kg grain samples from all over the heap, spreading these out over a sheet of newspaper and counting the number of ergots.
  • Only feed to growing/finishing cattle, never to breeding cows or any sheep.
  • Always feed as little as possible, eg by feeding it to more animals. Never feed higher levels to fewer animals – this simply increases the risk.
  • Where possible do not process contaminated grain. Feed it whole. Always take full precautions when handling the grain, ie protective clothing, masks, etc.
  • Monitor stock closely and at the first signs of any of the symptoms stop feeding contaminated grain immediately.
  • Never exceed the amounts in the tables below.

Store cattle

Feed level of grain (kg/day) Ergot/kg grain
1kg 1 ergot
2kg 0.5 ergots
3kg 0.3 ergots

Finishing cattle

Feed level of grain (kg/day) Ergot/kg grain
2kg 4 ergots
4kg 2 ergots
12kg None

Should farmers be seeking an alternative market for their contaminated crop Basil Lowman believes one possibility might be as feed stock for an Aerobic Digester, to produce energy. The evidence suggests ergot is unlikely to have any affect on the digestion process within an AD plant.

For further information, see SRUC News: Farmers warned of increased risk to ergot fungus in grain.

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