North West Local Land Services are urging livestock owners to be on the lookout for stargazing sheep. Often sheep with their heads facing directly towards the sky are experiencing a thiamine (or Vitamin B1) deficiency.
Stargazing is a term dubbed by livestock veterinarians which describes sick sheep affected by Polioencephalomalacia (PEM), a condition that reduces energy supply to the brain.
The condition is often seen in sheep and cattle grazing brassica crops or paddocks with large amounts of plants such as Wild Turnip, Bracken fern , Nardoo fern or Rock fern.
According to Dr Shaun Slattery, District Veterinarian for the North West Local Land Services, these plants contain thiaminase, “an enzyme which breaks down Vitamin B1, causing deficiency”.
“Most cases are linked to stock having sudden access to those plants in paddocks, in the western area and the black soil, it usually happens when they have access to wild turnips suddenly.
“But we also see it in the more recent areas, when they suddenly start eating rock fern, this can be when they are introduced to a paddock or when you have conditions where the rock the fern is the only green feed in the paddock”, said Dr Slattery.
“Sheep’s ruminants, a large compost in their stomachs, have a micro flora there and it usually can handle a lot of changes, but when they have sudden changes, the rumens not used to that and that’s when we see a lot of problems”.
“Rock fern can also cause a serious condition in cattle that is a bleeding disorder, so it is a toxic plant to be well aware of and to check on”, he said.
Other symptoms Dr Slattery wants graziers to be aware of include blindness, head pressing, aggressive behaviour, collapse, and seizures.
“It can be treated if found earlier enough by an injection of thiamine, so it’s a condition that graziers should be aware of and worthwhile checking their stock for”.
Often, the condition can lead to death.
“So as with anything with sheep and cattle, it’s important when moving them around to other paddocks, make that change as smooth as possible, like putting them in when they’re fully fed but also thinking about what possibly could be in that paddock that wasn’t in the last paddock”.
Symptoms of PEM are similar to other conditions affecting the nervous system. North West Local Land Services urge livestock owners who have stock behaving unusually, to call your local veterinarian on 1300 795 299.
Image by North West Local Land Services.