Toxic fungus invading pastures, killing cows

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(KTVI)-- The unusual spring and summer weather has been a prime breeding ground for ergot, a potentially deadly fungus that has invaded Missouri pastures according to the University of Missouri Extension Service.

A cool, wet spring, followed by warm summer temperatures sent the production of this dangerous fungus into overdrive.

The fungus infects a wide variety of grasses and forms something that looks like a mouse dropping up near the seed pods.

Inside those little black droppings are toxic compounds that when eaten by cattle and other livestock can be deadly.

Ergot can cause a variety of problems in livestock.  The toxins constrict blood vessels, increase respiration rates, raise core body temperatures and limit blood supply to extremities which result in the loss of toes, feet, limbs, ears and other body parts.

Just a few weeks ago, a farmer in northeast Missouri reported the deaths of four cattle soon after they grazed in in pastures now believed to have been infected with dangerous fungus.

Fortunately, Missouri Extension experts say at this point in the growing season, many of the infected pods may have already fallen to the ground - ending the risk.

However, there is still concern the toxic fungus could be buried inside hay bales rolled over the past several weeks.

Experts tell me people cannot get ergot poisoning from eating infected meat, but they can get it from ingesting bread or other foods made from contaminated grains.  The toxin has some similarities to LSD and some studies suggest that bread made from infected rye may have played a role in the witch trials in Salem Massachusetts back in the 17th century.

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