Signal Grass (Brachiaria decumbens) Toxicity in Grazing Ruminants
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Signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens) is a highly productive tropical grass that is widespread through South America, Australia, Indonesia, Vanuatu and Malaysia due to its adaptation to a wide range of soil types and environments. Animal production from these B. decumbens pastures is highly variable due to sporadic outbreaks of photosensitisation associated with low growth rates of young animals, anorexia and wasting. The identification of B. decumbens toxicity through clinical signs may grossly underestimate the impact and severity of the disease. Affected animals without clinical signs have elevated serum liver enzyme concentrations resulting from blockage of the bile ducts by birefringent crystals, identified as calcium salts of steroidal saponins found in leaves and stems. The concentrations of the steroidal saponins vary through the year and within the plant. Young, green leaves contain 5–10 times the saponin concentration of mature leaves indicating that B. decumbens pastures are likely to be more toxic during sprouting and early growth. Previous exposure, selective grazing, and avoiding toxic leaves may partly explain apparent resistance of some animals to B. decumbens toxicity. Further research is needed to define growing conditions that produce elevated saponin levels and to investigate the impact of B. decumbens on rumen function.
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