It’s difficult to know how long this current stretch of below normal temperatures will endure, but for beef producers in the Fescue Belt, there may be reason for concern.
Extended stretches of cold weather make animals more sensitive to developing fescue foot, according to Craig Roberts, University of Missouri extension forage specialist.
The potential toxicity risks associated with grazing or feeding Kentucky 31 tall fescue have been well-documented. One of the negative impacts on livestock is restricted blood flow, which results from the ingestion of ergot alkaloids produced by a fungus in the infected fescue.
Roberts says that restricted blood flow is a problem anytime cattle are fed fescue with high toxin levels, but extended stretches of cold weather make animals even more sensitive to developing fescue foot.
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. Use alternative feeds, if possible. 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.