Across the Southeast, beef cattle are knee-deep in tall fescue now, generating concerns of fescue toxicosis. It’s an age-old ailment that’s known to produce rough hair coats, heat stress, suppressed appetite, poor growth and reduced calving rates.
Jason Smith, Extension beef cattle specialist with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, reminds growers there are ways to manage around fescue toxicosis. These practices focus on reducing the amount of compounds consumed by cattle, or countering the negative effects that can follow consumption.
1. Pasture Diversity. If fescue toxicosis is an issue this year, consider a plan to introduce more pasture diversity for next season. Smith recommends interseeding a legume such as red clover, explaining that tall fescue stands cow-exist better with red clover than most other forages.
2. Supplementation. Dilution of tall fescue can be achieved by supplementing cattle with other feedstuffs. Smith says daily supplementation with a fiber-based commodity byproductsuch ascorn gluten feed, distillers grains or soy hulls can help mitigate toxicosis. He adds that commodity blends and complete feeds, non-fescue pastures and hays are also effective.
3. Mowing Pastures. Clipping tall fescue pastures immediately following seedhead emergence helps to lower toxins. Smith says clip the fescue as high as possible. The clipping not only reduces toxins, but it stimulates vegetative regrowth, helps with weed control and is a plus when it comes to prevention of pinkeye.
4. Minerals. Fescue toxicosis can actually reduce the availability of copper and zinc in cattle. Smith says the majority of Tennessee pasture forages are deficient in both, and they also contain high levels of sulfur. Sulfur reduces the availability of copper to the animal. Taken together these factors may explain why some symptoms of fescue toxicosis often mirror those of copper deficiency. Smith emphasizes it’s important that cattle producers provide animals with continuous year-round access to a free-choice mineral fortified with copper and zinc. To design the best mineral supplementation program he advises a forage analysis and consultation with an Extension agent or nutritionist.
5. Water and Shade. It is critical that cattle have continuous access to shade and clean, cool drinking water. Remember, a common symptom of toxicosis is heat stress.