The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says ergot is a naturally-occurring fungus which affects grasses and grain. The fungus produces alkaloids which are poisonous to all animals. Signs of ergotism include lameness, immobility, ill-thrift and in severe cases, cold or necrotic lower limbs and death.
Ergot can be identified in ryegrass as a black or purple body in the seed-head.
Feeding of infected ryegrass caused the illness and the death of several cows last year. Current conditions have led to ergot infections in several places and MPI is asking farmers to check their ryegrass pastures. Balage/silage should not be made from infected pastures. Stock should not be allowed to graze infected seedheads. Farmers should notify their vets of any signs of illness in stock.
Ergot outbreaks occur sporadically in this country, the last widely reported outbreak was in grain crops grown in the Manawatu/Rangitikei region in 2013.
MPI is working alongside industry bodies such as Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, Deer Industry New Zealand, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Veterinary Council on this latest outbreak.
Farmers and veterinarians are being asked to report cases of ergotism to MPI at ACVM-AdverseEvents@mpi.govt.nz.