Most livestock producers in the Fescue Belt know the potential toxicity risks of grazing or feeding Kentucky 31 tall fescue. One of the negative impacts on livestock is restricted blood flow resulting from the ingestion of ergot alkaloids produced by a fungus in infected fescue.
Though restricted blood flow is a problem anytime cattle are fed fescue with high-toxin levels, extended stretches of cold weather make animals more sensitive to developing fescue foot, according to Craig Roberts, University of Missouri extension forage specialist.
Compounding the elevated risk of fescue foot is the fact that fall forage growth following a period of drought intensifies toxin levels in plant tissues. This is exactly the position that many producers in Missouri find themselves in.
In a recent University of Missouri news release, Roberts encourages producers to utilize alternative feeds, if possible. If toxic fescue must be fed or grazed, consider the following strategies:
1. If an animal is seen limping, separate it from the herd and feed grain and nontoxic hay. Avoid feeding ensiled fescue, which preserves the toxin.
2. Don’t graze toxic fescue pastures too short. Recent research shows that toxins stay in the lower 2 inches of the fescue plant during the fall. Intensive rotational grazing with frequent movement of cattle will help ensure plants are not grazed too short.
3. Consider feeding stored hay during fall cold spells. Toxin levels in stockpiled fescue pastures decline over time. Grazing these pastures in mid- to late winter is rarely a concern.