In the Midwest US the wet weather and flooding are producing great growing conditions for ergot. Hay that's contaminated will sicken or kill animals. Grains that are contaminated will sicken or kill people.
I suggest if you are anyplace where it's been wet and flooding, learn about it fast. I'm learning about it now, not something I have dealt with before, anyone who knows more, please chime in.
One of my main questions for someone who knows more is does it die if it's baled? Or how do you check bales for it if you are buying them?
Ergot, if it's the same grain fungi I've read about, can cause psychosis. In european history, it's believed to be the cause of people accused of witchcraft, demonic possessions, being a werewolf etc. Grains were peasant food, and the poor class that ate breads made from the contaminated grain went crazy, and the wealthier class didn't really eat bread and were thus usually not affected, and it seemed that back then if one so much as looked a little funny they were accused of something like witchcraft. One way the church determined if one was a witch was to tie them to weights or a weighted chair, and toss them in a river. If they sank and drowned, they were innocent, but if they floated, they were witches and would be burned at the stake. The history is complicated, and I'm no historian, but it's something I remember from history class. Enough about history, I'll try to get back on track.
I think it's the toxins produced by the fungus, and not the fungus itself that is of concern, so wether the fungus is alive or dead in a bale I wouldn't think makes a difference, the toxins are already there. I think it may be very similar to botulism, where it's a toxin produced by the bacteria that kills and not the bacteria itself that is directly harmful.
Here's a few quick lines from Wikipedia on ergotism:
Ergotism (pron. /ˈɜːrɡətˌɪzəm/ UR-gət-iz-əm) is the effect of long-term ergot poisoning, traditionally due to the ingestion of the alkaloids produced by the Claviceps purpurea fungus that infects rye and other cereals, and more recently by the action of a number of ergoline-based drugs. It is also known as ergotoxicosis, ergot poisoning and Saint Anthony's Fire. Convulsive symptoms include painful seizures and spasms, diarrhea, paresthesias, itching, mental effects including mania or psychosis, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Usually the gastrointestinal effects precede central nervous system effects.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
Ergot produces a toxin that is very similar in effect to LSD, it mutates kernels into a purple mass which is not hard to detect by direct observation of the seeds.
If the infected seed is still in the hull you will first notice a purplish pink discoloration of the hull, upon hulling the purple infected kernel will be light in weight and if cross sectioned the interior will appear gray in color.
There is no treatment for infected grains except for incineration or burying (not advised since that just allows the fungus to survive and even spread through the ground.
If you suspect any baled straw or hay to be infected with the Claviceps purpurea fungus, the best action is to not purchase it.
It will not only create a state of psychotic confusion but it can cause bloat, liver damage and other maladies.