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Black bodies or “kernels” seen in grain screenings may indicate ergot. (North Dakota State University photo)

ND issues warning on toxic fungus in livestock feed

FARGO — North Dakota State University specialists are warning that toxic ergot is showing up in some livestock feed this year.

Ergot is a fungus that develops in grasses and cereal grains, especially in this damp weather and delayed planting. Ergot sclerotia are hard, puplish-black dark fungi bodies that grow at the same rate as plant seeds.

If black bodies or "kernels" are seen in grain screenings, break them in half. If the body is white on the inside, it's probably ergot, says Karl Hoppe, an NDSU livestock systems specialist. If it's black, it is more likely rat feces, which also should be avoided.

Ergot can create "ergotism," a disease affecting ruminants, horses, swine and humans. In cattle, it kills soft tissue or affects the skin, as well as lameness, elevated body temperature and reduces feed intake and fertility, says Gerald Stokka, NDSU veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist.

"Milk production can decrease in animals exposed to ergot alkaloids," says Michelle Mostrom, a toxicologist at the NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. She urges producers to submit representative samples of grain and grass to the lab for testing before feeding. Go to for information.

The sclerotia can fall to the ground to overwinter and possibly germinate the following year. Ergot shows up most in rye, triticale, wheat, barley, oats and a number of grasses — brome, timoty, quack grasses, blue grasses and others.