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Check that hay being fed to horses and livestock has tested low risk for annual ryegrass toxicity. Picture: DPIRD

Check hay for ryegrass toxicity

LIVESTOCK producers and horse owners are being reminded of the importance of testing hay for annual ryegrass toxicity.

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 that annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) could be present.

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

“ARGT is most often seen in spring when livestock graze pastures containing infected ryegrass seed heads, 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 the bacterium that causes ARGT before they feed it to stock. 

“Whenever producers buy hay, they should obtain a commodity vendor declaration (available on the Meat and Livestock Australia website) that states that the feed has been tested for ARGT and is classified as ‘low risk’.

“Horse owners buying hay from feed stores or a private supplier should ask to see a copy of a testing certificate.

“Owners should also note that while feed testing reduces the risk of ARGT poisoning, it does not eliminate it, as ARGT could be present in other untested parts of the bales.”

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.

“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.”

She said the signs of ARGT were similar to some reportable diseases not present in Australia.

“Producers are encouraged to have a private or department vet take samples to submit for laboratory testing for animals with these signs so that we can rule out any reportable diseases.

“Data from this testing helps to protect WA’s livestock industries, as trading partners ask us to provide proof that Australia is free of these diseases. 

“Where a number of animals are affected with these clinical signs, producers may qualify for the significant disease investigation program.

“Ask your private vet or department vet for details.”

More information on annual ryegrass toxicity and hay testing can be found on the department’s website at www.agric.wa.gov.au

About Anita

Anita Mcinnes received a highly commended in the 2009 WA Media Awards suburban section for her reporting. Two of her sons were born at Swan District Hospital and for many years she was a partner in a small business, which operated in the Gingin-Muchea-Bullsbrook area. As a mature age student Anita studied journalism at Curtin University before working in Busselton, Dunsborough and Rockingham with West Regionals. She says the best part of her job is meeting eastern suburb residents and visiting the many attractions in the area.

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