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Other Names: Sod Disease, Ergot Poisoning

Ergotism is caused by the consumption of feed, crops, and pasture grasses contaminated with ergot sclerotia of Claviceps species. Claviceps are a type of fungi which produces ergot alkaloids. The type and amount of alkaloids present depend on the species of Claviceps, host plant, and environmental factors.

Claviceps are found within ergots, which are hard purplish bodies (sclerotia) which replace sporadic grain kernels within the flowering portions of common crops (wheat, rye, triticale, barley, oats, cultivated and wild oats).
Sometimes ergots can be visible to the naked eye, as they are able to grow to almost 10 times the size of the average grain kernel, however they can also be very small and be undetectable to the naked eye. Ergot alkaloids are also produced by endophyte-contaminated grasses (tall fescue, ryegrass, sleepy grass, drunken horse grass, Paspalum grasses, bermuda grass, tobosa grass (Hilaria mutica), galleta grass (H. jamesii) and fine fescues).

Forms of Ergotism

Ergotism can present as either a gangrenous form or a convulsive form.
  • Gangrenous form: Lameness and gangrene are the major signs of the gangrenous form of ergotism. Vasoconstriction of the arterials combined with vascular thrombosis, stasis of blood flow and damage to capilliary endothelium results in diminished blood supply to the comb and feet. Reduced blood flow leads to necrosis and subsequently gangrene. Cold weather will increase the severity of the signs.
  • Convulsive form: Initially chickens will present with mild trembling and ataxia. These signs will usually worsen or present when the bird is disturbed or hears a sudden noise.

Clinical Signs

Blackening of beaks, claws and feet
Decay of wattles, comb, and/or beak
Loss of coordination
Inability to stand
Neck twisting
Abnormal feathering
Blisters on shanks and tops of toes


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Forage or feed testing
  • Necropsy

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Ergotism in a Ducks Tailings from cleaned wheat were fed to Muscovy ducks. Heavy mortality occurred within 48 hr among the 2-3-month-old ducklings, but older birds were unaffected. Mortality was preceded by lethargy and diarrhoea, and death occurred within 24-48 hr of the onset of symptoms. The feed was found to contain 1.17% ergot sclerotia, from blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides) which had infested the crop. Ref


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Discard suspected feed sourceAlso provide a non-contaminated, nutrient-rich, balanced feed.



  • Purchase feedstuff from reputable source
  • Always look at quality of feedstuff prior to feeding to chickens

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Continuous moist conditions or climates
  • Wet, cloudy and cool weather : Extends the period of flowering and increases the window of infection for spores to enter the florets for ergots to form
  • Living in areas with copper deficient soils (often consists of sandy or light loam soils)



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