Clip Horse Pastures to Reduce Ergot Poisoning Risk

Staff from the UK Horse Pasture Evaluation program recently observed ergot bodies in tall fescue pastures on several Central Kentucky horse farms. Here’s what to watch for.

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ergot poisoning
Sclerotia, or ergot bodies, can infect the seedheads of many grasses, including tall fescue (seen here) and ryegrass. | Photo: Jimmy Henning/University of Kentucky
The UK Horse Pasture Evaluation program has observed ergot bodies in headed-out tall fescue pastures in the last two weeks on several Central Kentucky horse farms.

Claviceps fungal spores are found in soil in much of the U.S. and infect the seeds of many grasses, particularly during wet spring months. This infection results in sclerotia (also called ergot bodies) growth instead of a healthy seed.

The sclerotia, which look like mouse droppings, contain concentrated levels of many ergot alkaloids. A number of these alkaloids are similar to the major toxin found in endophyte-infected tall fescue and can cause clinical signs similar to those seen in mares with fescue toxicosis.

To reduce the risk of ergot poisoning, keep pastures clipped to remove seedheads. Check hay and bedding for presence of ergot bodies. Because of the raking and baling process, ergot bodies in hay or bedding are rare, but can occur

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