A south-west Victorian dairy farmer is warning other farmers to be wary of oak trees in their paddocks after losing several yearlings to acorn poisoning.
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Acorn poisoning causes kidney and liver damage and swelling in the intestines, as seen here in one of Carlie Barry's yearlings.(Supplied: Carlie Barry)

Key points:

  • Carlie and Owen Barry have lost 10 yearlings to acorn poisoning
  • Acorns can be deadly to a range of animals if large amounts are eaten
  • There is no antidote available and veterinary options are limited

Carlie Barry from Woolvie Jerseys near Camperdown lost 10 yearlings and had to nurse other animals back to good health after the poisoning.

Acorns contain a toxin called tannic acid, which can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and intestines.

Ms Barry, who farms with her husband Owen, said they had been unfamiliar with the risk of acorn poisoning.

“We’re on a new property so we haven’t really had a lot of experience with oak trees before,” she said.

“The yearlings had access to a paddock with oak trees, but they weren’t locked in there. They were able to go in and out, but they must have acquired a taste for the acorns.”

Ms Barry said they went away for a few days, and when they returned home, they found their yearlings in dire straits.

“Out of the 70 yearlings, all of them were affected but there was about a third basically on death’s door,” she said.

“We got the vet out straight away and the sickest ones we were treating and one died in the vet’s arms while we were trying to treat it.

“That one went in for an autopsy and you could see that there was liver and kidney damage and there was about 30 litres of fluid in the intestines.”

No antidote available

Wendy Parish from the Hampden Veterinary Clinic in Cobden said it was the first time she had encountered acorn poisoning.

“It’s not common, I’ve never seen it before,” Ms Parish said.

“The animals were dull, depressed, not eating and I was able to collect some blood and urine samples. I was seeing very high kidney enzymes, meaning the kidneys were going into renal failure, as well as liver toxicity.

“On the animal that had died, I did a post-mortem and found there were acorns within the rumen.

“Acorns have a tannin in them which becomes an acid within the rumen and then that acid attacks the kidneys, the intestines and the liver.”

Yearling cattle stand behind an electric wire fence in a paddock.
Carlie and Owen Barry moved their yearlings away from the oak trees after they realised what had happened.(Supplied: Carlie Barry)

Ms Parish said animals including horses, sheep and goats were also susceptible.

“Unfortunately there’s no antidote available, all we can do is provide supportive care, keep the fluids up, and provide a protein-rich diet,” she said.

“There’s no known quantity that will cause sickness, and that’s what makes it difficult.”

A warning to others

Ms Barry said she was speaking out so others could avoid what she had been through.

“I’ve called some of my neighbours, they were sort of aware of it but not really aware of how serious it was,” she said.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking but farming has its ups and downs and I just hope that if I can save someone else’s cows by sharing and raising awareness, it’s not a completely negative experience.”

A labour dispute at a Quebec dairy plant has led to the dumping of 2 million litres of milk since Wednesday.

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