RESEARCH has found a treatment that could treat ryegrass staggers, saving Australian livestock producers more than $100 million each year.
Perennial ryegrass toxicoses (PRGT), or ryegrass staggers, is an ongoing and costly problem for Australian producers in the form of lost production and increased livestock mortality.
Charles Sturt University senior lecturer in veterinary physiology Dr Jane Quinn said the condition was caused by a toxin produced by a naturally occurring fungus in some perennial ryegrass.
“The affected livestock can develop the staggers which makes them very difficult to manage and can cause death,” she said.
“Even when people aren’t necessarily seeing the animals shaking or falling over there may be significant production losses with reduced fertility, ill-thrift and reduced milk production in dairy cattle.”
Most research has focused on developing new strains of ryegrass to make them less toxic than the original varieties, or on binding agents to prevent animals absorbing the toxins. Neither approach has been reliable.
The new research by Dr Quinn, Dr Scott Edwards and PhD student Dr Martin Combs from CSU’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, has focused on the central nervous system, the target of the ryegrass toxin.
Dr Combs said the research had identified a chemical compound that appeared to reduce clinical signs of ryegrass staggers in affected sheep, by treating the nervous system directly.
“In our pen trials we found that sheep showing severe signs of the staggers, who would consistently fall down when asked to move, could move more normally and without falling when treated with this compound,” said Dr Combs.
“When we tested their muscle activity they also showed reduced tremor.
“You could potentially treat a whole mob of sheep using this approach which is a key outcome for producers with affected animals.”
Dr Quinn said one of the main problems for producers was that affected animals were difficult to move, either for routine management or to get them off the pastures that are doing them harm.
The research has been funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, an alliance between CSU and NSW Department of Primary Industries.
The researchers and MLA have patented their work and are seeking interest from commercial partners to develop a therapeutic treatment program.
Read more at//news.csu.edu.au.