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South Gippsland autumn setback syndrome

An as yet uncharacterised syndrome causing weight loss, liver damage and photosensitisation in beef cattle has been described in several high winter rainfall regions of Australia, particularly south Gippsland. The range of clinical signs include weight loss, severe diarrhoea, decreased immunity resulting in secondary bacterial infections, such as Salmonella and Yersinia, and liver damage accompanied by elevated liver enzymes and often severe photosensitisation.

A previous clinical investigation on a farm in south-east Gippsland had found no specific cause, but suggested that mycotoxins produced by fungi growing on the pasture may be a possible cause. The range and ill-defined nature of the clinical signs means the prevalence, occurrence and impact of the syndrome is difficult to determine. Consequently, this study aimed to better describe the lost production and identify a causative agent associated with the syndrome.

A mob of 200-500 cattle was monitored on each of three beef producing farms in south-east Gippsland. Monthly blood samples, bodyweights, faecal worm and fluke egg counts, pasture quality and quantity assessments and pasture mould counts were used to describe and quantify the impact of the syndrome. On one of the three farms, 7% of steers had severe diarrhoea and were losing an average of 400 grams/day in June. This was despite the remainder of the mob gaining an average of 150 grams/day over the same period. However, unless producers are constantly weighing their stock, these changes in bodyweight will be difficult to detect. Of the steers losing weight, 22% were exhibiting the classical features of the syndrome, namely photosensitisation and elevated liver enzymes (glutamate dehydrogenase; ‘GLDH’). Furthermore, liver biopsy confirmed there was severe liver damage present in the affected cattle.

Before the onset of these clinical signs, pasture mould counts began to increase in April on all three farms. The first indication of the syndrome was early signs of photosensitisation in some cattle. The affected farm had a mixture of Herefords and Angus, but only the Herefords had photosensitisation (not unexpected because skin without pigmentation is more sensitive). Nevertheless, both Angus and Herefords were losing weight and had severe diarrhoea.

The predominant breed on the remaining two farms was Angus, and so no signs of photosensitisation were noted. Cattle were not weighed in June, because this was later than when the syndrome was previously seen, and so the planned monthly observations stopped in May. Thus, although mould counts did increase on the unaffected farms in April and May, it is not known if the syndrome was occurring because more detailed investigations, such as blood sampling and liver biopsies, were not able to be undertaken.


Title Size Date published
613.1KB 14/02/2013


Contract No. Title Start date End date Funding type
South Gippsland Autumn Setback Syndrome – ‘SGASS’
20/12/2011 15/11/2012

This page was last updated on 05/07/2018

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