A note from the University of Georgia extension team about the dangers of Fescue Toxicosis, especially this year. This highlights the importance of renovating old pastures that may still contain K-31 Fescue, and replacing it with an endophyte-free or novel endophyte fescue, such as our BarOptima Plus E34. This issue has been particularly prevalent in southern states this year but is a good reminder for anyone dealing with Kentucky-31 fescue in pastures.
The UGA Beef Team would like to make you aware of an issue we are observing. As we move through the wet fall in north Georgia, we are getting more and more calls regrading fescue toxicosis; specifically as it affects beef cows calving during this time of the year. We would like to offer a few signs to look out for, the cause, and potential solutions.
BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR:
- Fall calving cows that are having premature and/or light calves.
- Fall calving cows that are producing little or no milk (agalactia).
- The Plant: Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue is naturally infected with a fungal endophyte. The plant and endophyte have a symbiotic relationship; the plant provides an environment and nutrients for the fungus, and the fungus produces alkaloids that help the plant with drought, pest, and grazing tolerance
- The Animal: These alkaloids affect animals grazing it, especially in extreme weather conditions (i.e. heat or cold). Typical symptoms include lower gains on growing animals and lower conception rates on cows. In Georgia, we typically do not see severe symptoms during this time of year, due to relatively mild conditions. Pregnant cows consuming “hot” fescue in the last trimester of pregnancy are more likely to be affected by the symptoms above.
- The Climate: This year has created a “perfect storm” to create fescue toxicosis in brood cows. Due to the following three conditions happening, we have seen an increase in the reports of the condition.
- Drought stress: After fescue goes through a stress, such as drought, alkaloid concentration tends to increase. This is due the plant and fungus trying to recover.
- Temperature and moisture: This fall has been unseasonably warm and wet. Both of these conditions are favorable for increased forage production in fescue pastures and hay fields.
- Fertilization: The application of N increases the alkaloid concentration.
- Short term. Although there is no immediate cure , the following may help alleviate the symptoms:
- Removal. The most effective strategy is to the animals from the infected Tall Fescue pastures. If you are seeing these symptoms, and you are unsure if your tall fescue is infected are not, there is a 95% chance that it is infected. If at all possible, move these animals to non-infected pastures (i.e. bermudagrass, winter annuals, etc.).
- Dilution. If it is not feasible to move the animals, then diluting the fescue with other feed sources will help. This could include free choice hay from non-infected fields, supplemental feed. Additionally, if temporary fencing is available, strip grazing can be utilized in addition to supplementation, to limit feed the remaining fescue.
- Long term. Ultimately, the only long-term solution is to replace the endophyte-infected Tall Fescue with another forage. These can include fescue varieties with novel endophytes that do not affect the animals, bermudagrass, and/or other forages.
Unfortunately, these situations are usually not noticed until after the calving/milk issues are observed. By this time, it is too late to completely alleviate the symptoms. Most calves will need to be supplemented to compensate for the lack of milk. In most cases, if steps are taken this year, next year’s calf crop should not be affected.