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To investigate the roles of shade, fleece length and wool type in the protection of sheep from Hypericum perforatum poisoning. Adult Merino ewes of superfine, fine and medium wool type. Seventy sheep were divided into seven equal groups. During late spring and summer a series of successive, replicate experiments was conducted, each using one group and lasting 5 days. The sheep carried 14 to 24 weeks wool growth. In each experiment the treatments tested were Hypericum +, sunlight + (n = 7); Hypericum +, sun - (n = 1); Hypericum -, sun + (n = 1); Hypericum -, sun - (n = 1). Next, 24 sheep in two equal groups were used in experiments of similar design to the above. Each group consisted of nine recently (1 to 3 weeks previously) shorn and three wool covered (25 to 26 weeks growth) sheep. The treatments tested were Hypericum +, sunlight +, fleece - (n = 9); Hypericum +, sun -, fleece + (n = 1); Hypericum -, sun +, fleece + (n = 1); Hypericum -, sun -, fleece + (n = 1). Finely milled Hypericum was administered by gavage to provide 3 mg hypericin / kg body weight. Sheep were sheltered from direct sunlight or were exposed for 5 h per day for 4 successive post-treatment days. Rectal temperatures were measured immediately before and at the end of each sunlight exposure session. Rectal temperature above 40 degrees C was considered indicative of hypericin poisoning. After Hypericum treatment hypericin poisoning was displayed by 26.5% of woolled sheep that were exposed to sunlight, but by none of those that were fully shaded. In similarly treated but recently shorn sheep 94% displayed hypericin poisoning when exposed to sunlight. In the wool covered group the percentages of poisoned animals based on wool type were: superfine 14%, fine 28.5%, medium 33.3%. In the recently shorn group the percentage for all three approached 100%. A majority of Merinos with at least 14 weeks wool growth will not be poisoned by a single oral dose of 3 mg hypericin /kg, but because hypericin persists in the blood circulation for several days this safe dose will be lowered by continuous daily ingestion. Sheep with access to substantial areas of shade could safely ingest much greater amounts of hypericin. Wool removal greatly increases the risk of poisoning. Superfine Merinos with a wool cover should be able to ingest more hypericin than comparable, medium wool types, without any increased risk of poisoning. The ability of ruminant livestock to safely ingest Hypericum is probably determined more by the amount of skin protection they have against incident sunlight than by differences in hypericin metabolism and excretion capacity.


C A Bourke. The effect of shade, shearing and wool type in the protection of Merino sheep from Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) poisoning. Australian veterinary journal. 2003 Aug;81(8):494-8

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PMID: 15086086

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