Ergot: Low Levels Cause Big Problems

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Ergot develops when a fungus called Claviceps purpurea infects susceptible grass and grain plants during flowering. Rye is most susceptible annual crop, followed by triticale, then wheat. Barley and oats are less susceptible but not completely resistant. Ergot is not a concern in corn. Ergot can also infect a number of perennial grasses. Cool, damp weather conditions during the flowering period (like those in Western Canada over the last few years, and that appear to be shaping up again this summer) cause the flowers stay open longer. This allows more opportunities for ergot spores to spread and infect the seed head. Ergot spores can survive for a year on the soil surface. Less summer fallow, continuous grain-on-grain rotations and un-mowed grass in road allowances allow ergot spores to build up in the soil and help the disease cycle to continue and build.

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Do DDGS affect feedlot cattle health?



Corn, wheat and other grains contain 68-70% starch, 10-13% protein, 2-4% oil, 2-3% fiber and 2% minerals. Bioethanol production only uses the starch from the grain. Therefore, the protein, oil, fiber, and minerals are much more concentrated in the dried distillers’ grains with solubles (DDGS) by-product than in the original grain.

DDGS may be incorporated into feedlot diets depending on cost and availability. Feeding DDGS may have positive or negative impacts on animal health. The increased sulfur concentration in DDGS may increase the risk of polioencephalomalacia (PEM), a nervous disorder that has been observed in both high grain diets and high sulfur diets.

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Optimizing protein levels in diets containing distillers’ grains



Optimizing protein formulation in the diet of growing beef cattle is one of the most effective and practical methods of improving feed conversion efficiency and growth performance. Many protein feeds are commercially available for cattle, including soybean meal, canola meal and distillers’ grains (DG). Canola meal is a common protein feed in western Canada and its production is expected to increase. However, canola meal protein is degraded more readily in the rumen. DG, a by-product from the process of grain-based ethanol production, is used in beef cattle diets depending on its availability and price relative to the cost of cereal grains. Chemical composition and feeding value of DG vary with grain source and milling process.

A recently-completed research project, funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, worked to determine: Continue reading

E. coli O157:H7: an Industry Research Priority

E. coli O157:H7, the cause for the recent, extensive beef recall, is one of the few types of E. coli that is dangerous to humans.  It is shed in the feces of many warm-blooded animals, including deer, geese, dogs and cattle. E. coli O157:H7 is harmless to most animals but can be dangerous to humans if contaminated water or undercooked meat is consumed, especially to those with an immature or weakened immune system.  Beef can become contaminated by cattle hides and equipment during slaughter and processing or by food handlers in the retail sector.

Potentially dangerous pathogens are uncommon in beef, which is due in large part to the industry focus on combatting E. coli O157:H7. Continue reading