South East Local Land Services District Veterinarian, Steve Whittaker, says about 40 cattle have died on a number of farms between Nowra and Albion Park over the past few weeks.
“Signs in affected cattle can include restlessness, drooling and staggering. Cows then go down and generally die over the next two days. Affected cattle often give the appearance of having milk fever but do not respond to calcium treatment
“It is thought that an ingested toxin affects the normal functioning of the cow’s stomachs and the resultant distended fluid filled rumen is believed to cause the signs shown by affected cattle. A similar condition has been seen previously on kikuyu pastures – particularly at times when a really wet period has followed a very dry spell” said Steve.
Kikuyu poisoning is not well understood and is difficult to confirm. However early laboratory work has uncovered findings in a number of cases that are consistent with this condition.
However as the toxic substance causing these deaths has not been determined it is also not possible to specifically treat affected animals. Farmers who see cattle that may be similarly affected should still contact their local veterinarian. Veterinarians are providing symptomatic treatment when called to early cases. However once cattle are down, treatment has generally been unsuccessful.
It is very difficult to minimise the risk posed by kikuyu dominant pastures at present, but grazing cattle on alternative pastures that are not dominated by kikuyu or providing alternative sources of roughage such as hay should help.
Many of the kikuyu pastures on which affected cattle have been grazing are also infested with army worms. However it is not known if the toxin causing the problem is actually associated with the army worms or if the army worms just happen to be in the paddocks at the same time the rapidly growing plants are producing the toxin.