CATTLE producers are being urged to monitor stock following reports from North East Victorian farmers of outbreaks of paspalum staggers.
Paspalum staggers is seen in cattle, and more rarely in sheep and horses, grazing paspalum grass or water couch seed heads infested with the fungus, or ergot, Claviceps paspali.
Department of Primary Industries (DPI) District Veterinary Officer Ian Holmes said outbreaks usually occurred in the autumn when warm, wet weather promoted the ergot’s growth.
"The ergots are initially sticky and yellow-grey, but then become hard and black. They are most toxic when changing from the sticky ‘honeydew’ stage to the black stage," Dr Holmes said.
"Staggers-affected stock show signs of tremors, head shaking, lack of coordination, falling and paddling convulsions. These signs are exaggerated when the cattle are moved or are disturbed by noise.
"They usually recover fast and uneventfully once they are removed from the affected pastures but care should be taken when moving animals and they should be allowed to move in their own time.
"Producers should also take care when approaching animals as they will be anxious and can be aggressive and unpredictable."
Dr Holmes said calves and yearlings were particularly susceptible.
"Deaths are not common from paspalum staggers if stock are promptly removed from toxic pastures," he said.
"However stock can suffer injuries or die of misadventure or become cast so they should be put in safe paddocks and observed until they recover.
"There is no effective treatment apart from nursing as needed. Producers who don’t have clean paddocks are advised to feed a supplement such as hay.
"Regular slashing or mowing of affected paddocks is one potential way to reduce the development of the fungal-affected seed heads," Dr Holmes said.
For all your disease, welfare and general stock advice contact your local DPI Animal Health staff through the DPI Customer Service Centre on 136 186.