Horse owners and livestock producers reminded to test hay for ryegrass toxicity

Stock image.
Stock image.

HORSE owners and livestock producers are being reminded of the importance of testing hay for annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT), which can be fatal.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development veterinary officer Anna Erickson said because annual ryegrass was often present in oaten and meadow hay, there was also a risk toxicity could be present.

“ARGT is a serious and usually fatal disease that occurs when livestock eat annual ryegrass seedheads that are infected with a toxin-producing bacterium,” she said.

“ARGT is most often seen in spring when livestock graze pastures containing infected ryegrass seedheads, but the risk for ARGT remains when that pasture is turned into hay. Drying the grasses for hay does not eliminate the toxin.

“It is recommended that stock owners and feed sellers have hay containing annual ryegrass tested for the presence of bacterium that causes ARGT before they feed it to stock.”

Dr Erickson said that signs of ARGT in livestock included trembling, clumsy gait, jaw champing, difficulty swallowing and drinking, and dullness, followed by lying down and convulsions.

“The toxin accumulates slowly, so stock may not start to show signs of the disease until they have had several weeks on the same hay source,” she said.

“Signs are made worse by stress or movement, and apparently normal animals may suddenly show severe signs (collapse, seizures and death) when disturbed. Animals showing these signs should be slowly moved to a quiet area and disturbed as little as possible until veterinary advice has been sought.”

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