Fletcher et al 2017.pdf (1.12 MB)

The occurrence of ryegrass staggers and heat stress in sheep grazing ryegrass-endophyte associations with diverse alkaloid profiles

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 22:07 authored by Lester Fletcher, Sarah FinchSarah Finch, Lee Sutherland, Gina de Nicolo, Wade MaceWade Mace, Chikako van KotenChikako van Koten, David HumeDavid Hume
AIMS: To compare ryegrass pastures infected with endophytes producing diverse alkaloids for their ability to cause ryegrass staggers in grazing lambs; to compare respiration rates and rectal temperatures of these lambs after exposure to heat stress, and to compare liveweight gains during the study period. METHODS: Ryegrass pastures of cultivar Trojan infected with NEA endophytes, branded NEA2 (T-NEA2), endophyte-free Trojan (T-NIL), Samson infected with standard endophyte (S-STD), Samson infected with AR37 endophyte (S-AR37) and endophyte-free Samson (S-NIL), were grazed by lambs (n=30 per cultivar) for up to 48 days in February and March of 2012 and 2013. Pasture samples were analysed for alkaloid concentrations and lambs were scored for ryegrass staggers at intervals during the study period. Liveweight was recorded at the start (Day 0) and end of the study, and rectal temperatures and respiratory rates were measured in lambs exposed to heat stress on Days 23 and 26, in 2012 and 2013, respectively. RESULTS: Concentrations of alkaloids were lower in 2012 than 2013, associated with warmer and drier conditions in 2013, and the prevalence of ryegrass staggers was low in 2012. In 2013, concentrations of ergovaline were similar in T-NEA2 and S-STD, but concentrations of lolitrem B were lower in T-NEA2 than S-STD. S-AR37 produced epoxy-janthitrems but no lolitrem B or ergovaline. In 2013, by Day 20, 9/30 (30%) sheep grazing S-STD had severe staggers (score ≥4), and by Day 47 all sheep had been removed from this cultivar due to severe staggers. By Day 47, 18/30 (60%), 4/30 (13%) and 0/30 (0%) sheep grazing S-AR37, T-NEA2 and T-NIL pastures, respectively, had severe staggers. There were no differences in mean daily weight gain of lambs between cultivars in either year. In both years, mean rectal temperature and respiration rate following exposure to heat stress were highest in sheep grazing S-STD and T-NEA2, and lowest in sheep grazing T-NIL. CONCLUSIONS: In lambs grazing different ryegrass pastures infected with endophytes, ryegrass staggers was most severe on S-STD, less severe on S-AR37 and least on T-NEA2. When under heat stress, lambs grazing ergovaline-producing S-STD and T-NEA2 pastures had increased respiration rates and rectal temperatures compared with lambs grazing T-NIL. CLINICAL RELEVANCE: If ambient temperatures are suitable, NEA2-branded endophytes have the potential to express concentrations of ergovaline sufficient to induce heat stress in grazing sheep.


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© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • English

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Taylor & Francis Group

Journal title

New Zealand Veterinary Journal




Fletcher, L. R., Finch, S. C., Sutherland, B. L., de Nicolo, G., Mace, W. J., van Koten, C., & Hume, D. E. (2017). The occurrence of ryegrass staggers and heat stress in sheep grazing ryegrass-endophyte associations with diverse alkaloid profiles. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 65(5), 232-241. doi:10.1080/00480169.2017.1329673


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