October 2009
Feeding Facts

Feeding Facts

As we go into fall of 2009, most areas of the state have received good rains and lower temperatures than years past, and fall grasses seem to be ready to produce quality forages for cattle consumption. Fescue continues to be a predominate pasture grass in Alabama, and I expect it to be in good supply in North Alabama.

Fescue is easily-established, persistent, tolerant of poor soil conditions, drought resistant and its productivity under a wide-range of temperatures allows cattle producers to provide abundant amounts of forage almost year-round.

There are, however, drawbacks when utilizing fescue for grazing and hay. One is forage quality. While fescue will out-produce other grasses, it will not provide the overall nutrient-quality other grasses provide.

The real drawback to fescue is toxicity. Often referred to as "summer slump," fescue toxicity is one of the most frustrating aspects of beef production. The primary cause is a fungus (Neotyphodium coenophialum) that is the same as the fungus causing ergot in cereal grains. In cattle, death loss is rare, but there are physiological problems typically translated into impaired performance. Animals grazing endophyte-infected grass usually show a combination of the following signs: reduced weight gains, reduced feed intake, intolerance to high temperatures causing more time spent in the shade or in the water, rough hair coats, elevated body temperatures, faster respiration rates, reduced reproductive performance and hormonal imbalances.

During winter months, restricted blood flow to extremities causes gangrene to occur in feet, ears and/or tail switch is often referred to as fescue foot. The primary cause of these symptoms is constricted blood vessels preventing cattle from properly regulating temperature and hormonal centers in the brain.

The endophyte is totally contained in the plant and can be transmitted only through the seed. The endophytic fungus over-winters within the plant and fungus growth occurs in the spring as tiller growth resumes on the plant. Since the primary means of transmission is the seed source itself, this explains why a large percentage of fescue pastures are infected.

Research conducted at Kentucky, Georgia and Auburn Universities proves grazing poorly-managed, high endophyte fescue will adversely affect overall performance of cattle. It has proven cattle consuming infected fescue will have lower average daily gains and higher body temperatures. Research in feedlots also implies calves coming into the yard off of fescue-based forages will eat less, gain less and have more sickness throughout the feeding program. The same type results were also proven in studies utilizing fescue hay cut after seed heads were present.

While fescue toxicity has been a real concern, new products, along with other management practices, have been implemented over the past several years to help reduce these problems. While early improved varieties lacked insect and disease-resistance along with stand persistency, new varieties are being introduced showing much more favorable results. Just remember, when an infected crop is to be replaced, it must be destroyed by tillage and/or herbicides.

Another area gaining more attention is in nutritional management. Several products are now available to help reduce the overall problems associated with infected fescue. Research has again proven cattle consuming high levels of the trace minerals zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt provided in an easily-absorbed form show significant performance improvement over cattle consuming lower levels of these minerals. Certain products with the ability to bind to the toxin also show great potential in reducing the amount of toxin entering the blood stream. Incorporation of products supporting proper rumen function, improved fiber digestion and nutrient utilization, will also help overall performance of the cow even when she is stressed.

A final area in nutritional management showing favorable results is the incorporation of antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E into the diet of cattle. While this will not totally end problems with fescue toxicity, it will greatly reduce problems associated with fescue grazing.

Your local Quality Co-op has several products available to improve the nutritional program of your cattle. It will carry a variety of Sweetlix® minerals containing elevated trace minerals as well as chelated minerals to be provided to your cattle on a daily basis.

STIMU-LYX® Supplement Tubs, with unique formulations designed to reduce the adverse affects of fescue toxicity, are also available through your local Co-op.

As new research continues to provide further information on ways to deal with this problem, I can assure you we will continue to offer new product lines to help in reducing loss.

My greatest concern this fall is, due to higher mineral prices, a lot of producers have chosen to utilize a lower priced mineral or trace mineral salt in their cow herds. While these products will meet some of the needs of your cattle, they will be deficient in other areas like trace mineral and vitamin levels. I am concerned, by implementing this type of program, we will see a larger number of reproductive failures, unthrifty cattle and poor growth in calves. Remember, for the first few months of a calf’s life, the cow provides the nutrition to meet its needs. If you have a cow on a mineral-deficient program, then the calf will also be deficient in these same areas.

In conclusion, fescue has many favorable characteristics making it an excellent forage. A pasture and nutritional management plan should be implemented to help curb the effects of feeding infected fescue. Your local Co-op has the products and knowledge to assist in implementing a plan.

I will also be happy to assist you in any way to implement a management plan. I would also encourage you to call your local Co-op for a fall producer meeting schedule. There are several meetings scheduled throughout the state this fall. These meetings are very informative and will provide the opportunity to purchase fall and winter feeds, and parasite control products at a discounted cost.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 947-7886 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.