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Ergot - Need some grain farmer opinions

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DiamondSCattleCo

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Earlier this year (late last year?), I found my calves were having trouble with ergot poisoning. Ears were beginning to deaden and sores on the legs. A vet confirmed the diagnosis. I immediately checked the oats they were getting, and it was fine (elevator cleared it too). I had samples of my hay checked out and it came back today with 0 ergot levels.

So now I'm scratching my head wondering where it came from, and the only thing I can think of is a couple 3 year old barley straw bales I put into the calf pen about a month before I noticed their ear troubles. In theory, straw shouldn't have any ergot troubles, but I was wondering if its possible that some of the ergot may not have gotten threshed out? My father, whose the grain farmer in the clan, feels it that some of the ergot agent may have gotten left behind, but I wanted to ask for some of your opinions?

Rod
 

Manitoba_Rancher

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Rod,


Have you thought about if there may have been any grain that was in the straw? The combine may have threw some grain over into the straw. When you baled the straw the thrown over grain likely went into the bale. You may not notice it with the naked eye but it could be in there. I ve heard of this before. Do you use a bale shredder to bed your pens? I would be tempted to not use this old straw.
 

DiamondSCattleCo

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Its definitely a possibility MR. I use an M&W enclosed chain baler, so any grain that was in the straw and didn't get shaken out on the pickup would be in the bale somewhere. I was just thinking it would take alot of bad luck to happen to throw over the ergotted seed, have it land on the straw, and then not get shaken out by the pickup :) I thought it may be more likely that it never got threshed out in the first place, but have no idea how hard it is to thresh an ergotted seed versus a healthy barley seed.

As for using this stuff, it was by accident. I used it last year, and ended up with warts and ringworm from it (musty barley straw is bad news. After 25 years of running livestock, I still learn new things every year.) I didn't have a chance to dispose of it, and this year grabbed a few bales of it by mistake when I first started bedding down. I realized my error after my calves turned up with ringworm about 2 days after putting it out.

Rod
 

Jason

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Rod I don't often get enough straw to have old straw sitting around, but the last couple years I have.

Granted we don't have ergot that I know of, but we have never had any trouble with the old straw.

The cows will eat old barley straw over hay sometimes, again no troubles.

I would think the chance of a few old bales causing the problem is pretty slight. (But as you said after 25 years you keep learning, me too)

Any fescue in the hay? I would have the oats checked out by an independant lab too.

From what I have read ergot is a type of mold and too much mycotoxin will cause problems. So maybe it can be caused by mold other than specific ergot.
 

DiamondSCattleCo

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I finally managed to get ahold of some other folks and get some confirmation on a few things:

1) Ergot poisoning is the only thing that can cause the ears and hooves to become gangrous and eventually fall off. Other than frostbite of course, and it hasn't been near cold enough this winter for that to even be remotely the cause. So that rules out other toxins.

2) It doesn't matter if the does comes all at once, or is gradual, the symptoms can indeed be the same. I'd read some conflicting information that stated an acute dose of ergot poisoning would lead to nervous system failure, not necrotic extremities. That was wrong. After a high dose of ergotted feed, ears will begin showing slight signs at 6-8 days. Ready signs are seen at 10 -12 days.

3) While the ergot can indeed be threshed out easily, it will leave behind residue on the seed head. This residue is enough to poison an animal. Its odd, because in seed grains its anywhere between .2% and .025% before ergot has reached toxic levels. In hay its only a few parts per billion. Just a few parts per million is considered a high dose in hay and straw.

So, long and short of it is that the vet is pretty sure the ergot came from those barley straw bales. I don't think I'm going to bother testing them, just haul em away and light them up.

Rod
 

Jason

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That's a tough pill just for using some old bales as bedding.

Hope the calves can be salvaged.

I guess our winds help a lot, if we bed out the wind carries all the dust and half the straw away.
 

DiamondSCattleCo

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Well, those old bales should not have been left on the ranch (not sure if you noticed the earlier post, but they spread ringworm last year). I intended to haul them away, but didn't place them high on the priority list. I guess they're up on the list now.

As for the calves, I caught it before any lost hooves, but I've got four out there with no ears (1 is a registered heifer, so she was staying anyway) and another 10 or so with a touch on their ears. You and I both know whats going to happen when I ship the earless ones to the auction market, so I think I'll finish them and try my hand at farmgating some beef (people have asked me for it in the past). As for the 10 with touches on the ears, I'll roll the dice and see what happens. I don't think they'll hit me, since they're crackerjack calves.

Rod
 

Jason

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It's funny how the froze ears get docked so bad, but I do understand the rationale behind it.

One year I was buying extra calves to feed and I bought a froze eared steer. He walked fine in the ring, but after being on feed a while his feet were froze just enough to make the hooves grow out. I manged to get him to 1000 pounds with just enough finish to get him gone to XL. I made a few bucks but sure wouldn't have if I had paid the full price calves were bringing.

If you have customers asking for beef, make sure they specify if they want a well fattened one or a bit leaner one. It makes for a repeat customer.

The other thing folks like is if you do all the messing with the killing and processing (at inspected facilities for you protection) and give them 1 price at the end. Some guys charge seperately for the animal, killing, and processing. I have been told Sask is uninspected (provincially) and there isn't many(or any) inspected places, just ask a few questions before you send them.

Good luck, you might just like the retail end :wink:
 

DiamondSCattleCo

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Jason said:
If you have customers asking for beef, make sure they specify if they want a well fattened one or a bit leaner one. It makes for a repeat customer.

I decided this is going to be a friends and family thing. They get critters fed 25% barley, 75% alfalfa and they either take a half or a full beef. I'll slaughter, cool and deliver to the butcher shop of their choice, they take it from there :)

To heck with farmgating :) I don't have the energy to deal with retail anymore :)

Rod
 

Jason

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Steve I think I understand your question, so here's a crash course on feeding cattle for profit.

Cow/calf producers raise a calf and traditionally sell it at weaning (6-9 months). Depending on their overhead costs like land machinery etc. they get the difference in the selling price vs the cost to keep the cow for a year. Many peg costs around $350/yr (studies show a $250 variance between high and low)

That calf can be sold a few times between weaning and slaughter. Each time it is sold the weight vs the gain is factored in. Cost of gain is 30-70 cents per pound depending on stage of life and what costs are factored in. The purchase price is currently over $1 a pound on every weight of animal except finished (fat) for slaughter. So the animal is worth more per pound the farther from slaughter weight it is, but less per total animal.

Anything that would affect the cost of feeding an animal or reduce it's projected finish weight will reduce it's potential value to a buyer. If you calculate a 600 pound increase on an animal with the difference being price less cost and get a number that covers overhead, but have to sell that animal with only 500 pounds of gain because of it's feet or whatever, to 100 pounds of lost gain can be $70 ($1 minus 30 cents times 100 pounds).

Rod's animals might not be affected in finished weight as he caught the problem soon enough, but as I posted before buyers are wary of cattle with missing ears because it can mean their feet won't hold up. The beef is not affected with problems like this, unless the feet go before the animal is fat enough to slaughter, then the quality is different but not harmful.

I hope this helps.
 

DiamondSCattleCo

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stevec said:
1) I am curious as to how this condition effects the meat from the animal. If it is safe to eat by farmgating, then what difference does it make when you take the animal to market to be slaughtered? Isn't the price at maturity the same, and based on weight?

In the case of my ergot poisoned animals, the beef quality won't be effected. Indeed, performance isn't affected at all. However, its impossible for a buyer to tell the difference between an animal that had ergot poisoning and an animal whose ears were frozen as a calf. The frozen eared animal "may" develop foot troubles as it nears finishing, which may require treatment or slow down performance. Either condition will cost the feedlot money, so they adjust their buying price accordingly.

Rod
 

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