Jun 9 14 9:07 AM

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Sulfur-induced polioencephalomalacia in stocker calves.


Calves from 3 farms exhibited blindness, head pressing, and circling before death. Brain lesions confirmed polioencephalomalacia. Excess sulfur was found in the diets on all 3 farms in corn by-products or molasses based supplements. Corn gluten feed and corn steep liquor (by-products of the refinement of corn for ethanol), corn syrup, corn gluten, corn oil, and corn starch have gained popularity as livestock feeds due to their low prices. With this increased usage as livestock feed, increasing number of cases of polioencephalomalacia have been seen.


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Jun 15 14 6:27 AM

More on PEM

Polio in Cattle can be Caused by Sulfur Toxicity

Polioencephalomalacia (PEM) was first reported in 1956 and was described as a neurologic disorder of cattle characterized by blindness, ataxia, recumbancy and seizures. The micropathologic description was a laminar cortical necrosis. This description of PEM is still accurate 50 years later, but several additional causes have been identified.
Sulfur intake can occur in the feed or water so the total dietary intake of sulfur is needed in order to evaluate the risk of developing PEM.  This is especially pertinent in Iowa now because of ethanol byproducts, especially dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS). Ethanol byproducts may contain a high concentration of sulfur.
When cattle are transitioning to high sulfate intake conditions, the ruminal sulfide concentration peaks 1 to 3 weeks after the change.
Source: http://vetmed.iastate.edu/diagnostic-lab/diagnostic-services/diagnostic-sections/chemistry-/-toxicology/polio-cattle-can-be-ca

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UNL research by Erickson and Klopfenstein also is looking into feeding a higher percentage of ethanol byproducts to cattle. Historically, wet byproducts have comprised 15-20% of feedlot rations. Researchers hope to boost that to as much as 50%, perhaps even more.
"What happens if we feed 60, 70 or even 80%?," Erickson said.
One part of that research is gauging the impact of sulfur in diet. While sulfur is a required mineral for cattle, ingesting too much can result in sulfur toxicity, reduce feed and water intake and may cause polioencephalomalacia, a potentially fatal neurologic disease. Numerous analyses have shown that the sulfur content of distillers grains is generally four to seven times greater than that of corn.
"We have to figure out the upper level of sulfur that's fairly low risk," Erickson said.
Scientists are beginning to get some of those answers. Byproduct feeding experiments conducted by UNL found the incidence of polio in cattle with diets containing .46% or less sulfur was small -- only about .14%. Incidences of the disease increased to about .35% when cattle were fed diets ranging from 0.46% sulfur to .56% and increased to 6.06% in those fed diets with .56% or more sulfur.
Researchers also are studying the impact of fat in distillers-grains-heavy diets because too much fat in rations can harm cattle performance.

Case Report - Polioencephalomalacia in Dairy Calves

Last Edited By: Sir Loin Jun 15 14 7:05 AM. Edited 1 time.

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Nov 5 14 7:05 AM




Polioencephalomalacia (PEM) is an important neurologic disease of ruminants that is seen worldwide. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and camelids are affected. The term PEM denotes a lesion with certain gross and microscopic features that are not specific for a particular etiology or pathogenesis. Historically, PEM has been associated with altered thiamine status, but more recently an association with high sulfur intake has been observed

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Nov 9 14 11:24 AM

Sulfur is more likely to be in excess, which can interfere with the metabolism of copper, resulting in a copper deficiency. Also, excess sulfur can reduce feed intake and cause a brain lesion condition known as polioencephalomalacia (PEM). Certain by-products such as distillers grains and corn gluten feed contain higher concentrations of sulfur, which should be taken into account in ration balancing. Sulfur is often added indirectly to the mineral mix through sulfate forms of the microminerals.

Copper is the most common micromineral deficiency in grazing cattle. Copper is an important component of many enzyme systems essential for normal growth and development. Deficiency signs include reduced fertility, depressed immunity and reduced pigmentation of hair (black hair changes to red).


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Feb 8 15 3:44 PM

Iowa State University , sulfur toxicity

Sulfur associated PEM occurs in 2 forms. The acute form is characterized by blindness, recumbancy, seizures and death. The subacute form is characterized by visual impairment and ataxia. Twitching of the ears or facial muscles is frequently observed. The subacute form is frequently followed by recovery with minor neurologic impairment. “


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Oct 4 16 8:52 AM

However, feeding diets high in non-protein nitrogen or high in rumen undegradable intake protein may reduce the amount of sulfur available for rumen microorganisms, thus increasing the need for supplemental sulfur. The requirement for sulfur (National Research Council) is 0.15% of diet dry matter and maximum tolerable level is listed as 0.40% of diet dry matter (NRC, 1996).
See Management Recommendations : and table 1.


My goal is and always has been, to treat all my animals humanely, to uphold or improve the image of the beef industry, while at the same time maximizing my profit in a safe manner.

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