The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of ergot contaminated feed concentrate at differing levels of feed intake on ruminal fermentation, and on various physiological parameters of dairy cows. Twelve double fistulated (in the rumen and the proximal duodenum) Holstein Friesian cows were fed either a control diet (on a dry matter (DM) base: 60% maize silage, 40% concentrate) or a diet containing ergot alkaloids (concentrate contained 2.25% ergot resulting in an ergot alkaloid concentration of the daily ration between 505 and 620 (μ;g/kg DM) over a period of four weeks. Daily feed amounts were adjusted to the current performance which resulted in a dry matter intake (DMI) variation between 6.0 and 18.5 kg/day. The resulting ergot alkaloid intake varied between 4.1 and 16.3 (μ;g/kg body weight when the ergot contaminated concentrate was fed.
Concentrations of isovalerate, propionate and ammonia nitrogen in the rumen fluid were significantly influenced by ergot feeding, and the amount of ruminally undegraded protein, as well as the fermentation of neutral detergent fibre, tended to increase with the ergot supplementation at higher levels of feed intake, which might indicate a shift in the microbial population. Other parameters of ruminal fermentation such as ruminai pH, fermented organic matter as a percentage of intake, or the amount of non-ammonia nitrogen measured at the duodenum were not significantly influenced by ergot feeding. The activities of liver enzymes (aspartate aminotransferase, γ-glutamyltransferase, glutamate dehydrogenase, creatine kinase) in the serum were not affected by ergot feeding. The rectal measured body temperature of the cows significantly increased after ergot administration (p=0.019). Thus, body temperature can be regarded as a sensitive parameter to indicate ergot exposure of dairy cows.