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Interpretive Summary: Effect of increasing concentration of ergot alkaloids in the diet of feedlot cattle: performance, welfare, and health parameters

By: Jenna M Sarich, Kim Stanford, Karen S Schwartzkopf-Genswein, Tim A McAllister, Barry R Blakley, Gregory B Penner, Gabriel O Ribeiro

Ergot alkaloids (EA) are produced by a parasitic fungus (Claviceps purpurea) during the cereal grain growth cycle. Feeding cereal grain containing EA to beef cattle can cause constriction of blood vessels, hyperthermia, gangrene of extremities (ears, hoof, and tail), reduced feed intake and growth, and even death. Feed cleaning and processing technologies have been developed to remove EA from the human food chain, thus diverting contaminated feed for livestock use. We performed a beef cattle feedlot experiment to evaluate the impact of increasing levels of EA (0, 0.75, 1.50, 3.00 mg/kg of diet DM) on performance, health, and welfare. Steers fed 3.0 mg/kg of EA were transferred to the control diet (without EA) in the last half of finishing due to toxicity (hyperthermia). As EA levels increased, growth rate throughout the backgrounding and finishing phases decreased, while rectal temperatures increased and altered feeding behaviors occurred. Steers removed from 3 mg/kg EA diet exhibited compensatory gain, but their respiratory rate remained elevated 50 d after EA were last consumed.

Read the full article in the Journal of Animal Science.