Original Research

Claviceps cyperi, a new cause of severe ergotism in dairy cattle consuming maize silage and teff hay contaminated with ergotised Cyperus esculentus (nut sedge) on the Highveld of South Africa

T.W. Naude, C.J. Botha, J.H. Vorster, C. Roux, E.J. Van der Linde, S.I. Van der Walt, G.E. Rottinghaus, L. Van Jaarsveld, A.N. Lawrence
Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research | Vol 72, No 1 | a221 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ojvr.v72i1.221 | © 2005 T.W. Naude, C.J. Botha, J.H. Vorster, C. Roux, E.J. Van der Linde, S.I. Van der Walt, G.E. Rottinghaus, L. Van Jaarsveld, A.N. Lawrence | This work is licensed under CC Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0
Submitted: 17 September 2005 | Published: 17 September 2005

About the author(s)

T.W. Naude,
C.J. Botha,
J.H. Vorster,
C. Roux,
E.J. Van der Linde,
S.I. Van der Walt,
G.E. Rottinghaus,
L. Van Jaarsveld,
A.N. Lawrence,

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During December/January 1996/97 typical summer syndrome (hyperthermia and a 30 % drop in milk yield) occurred in succession in two Holstein dairy herds (n = 240 and n = 150 milking cows, respectively) on the South African Highveld. These farms are situated in the midst of the prime maize and dairy farming areas of South Africa where this condition had never been diagnosed before.
The individual components of the concentrate on both farms were negative for ergot alkaloids. Endophytic fungi and/or ergot infestation of teff and other grasses fed to the cows were then suspected of being involved, but neither endophytes nor ergot alkaloids could be implicated from these sources.
By measuring the serum prolactin levels of groups of sheep (n = 5) fed the first farm's total mixed ration (TMR) or its three individual fibre components for a period of 11 days, the source of the ergot alkaloids was identified. A statistically significant decrease in the level of this hormone occurred only in the group on maize silage (which constituted 28 % on dry matter base of the TMR). The involvement of the maize silage was further chemically confirmed by the high levels of total ergot alkaloids, predominantly ergocryptine, found by LC-MS in the silage as well as in the TMR (115-975 ppb and 65-300 ppb, respectively). The ergot alkaloid content (mainly ergocryptine) of the maize silage on the second affected farm was 875 ppb. Withdrawal of contaminated silage resulted in gradual recovery of stock on both farms.
Nut sedge (Cyperus esculentus and Cyperus rotundus of the family Cyperaceae) has a world-wide distribution and is a common weed in annual crops, and can be parasitized by Claviceps cyperi. Careful examination of the maize silage from both farms revealed that it was heavily contaminated with nut sedge and that it contained minute sclerotia, identified as those of Claviceps cyperi, originating from the latter. Nut sedge was abundant on both farms and it is believed that late seasonal rain had resulted in mature, heavily ergotised nut sedge being cut with the silage. Claviceps cyperi sclerotia, collected on the affected fields in the following autumn contained 3 600-4 000 ppm ergocryptine. That the dominant alkaloid produced by this particular fungus was indeed ergocryptine, was confirmed by negative ion chemical ionization MS/MS.
In one further outbreak in another Holstein herd, teff hay contaminated with ergotised nut sedge and containing 1 200 ppb alkaloids, was incriminated as the cause of the condition.
This is the first report of bovine ergotism not associated with the Poaceae infected with Claviceps purpureum or endophytes but with the family Cyperaceae and this particular fungal phytopathogen.


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