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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / January 

Virginia Cooperative Extension to hold grass trainings for cattle producers

January 31, 2018

Angus cattle seek relief from summer heat and humidity wading in a pond. Fescue toxicosis reduces cattle’s natural ability to regulate its body temperature in both hot and cold weather Photo: Margaret Stratton

Angus cattle seek relief from summer heat and humidity wading in a pond. Fescue toxicosis reduces cattle’s natural ability to regulate its body temperature in both hot and cold weather.
Angus cattle seek relief from summer heat and humidity wading in a pond. Fescue toxicosis reduces cattle’s natural ability to regulate its body temperature in both hot and cold weather Photo: Margaret Stratton

Animals who forage on toxic tall fescue can develop multiple health issues. Researchers have estimated that revenue lost to fescue toxicosis can reach $1 billion annually industry-wide.

Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, and University Extension in Missouri, Kentucky, North and South Carolina are partnering to host a series of one-day educational workshops in multiple states to assist area cattle producers with novel endophyte fescue renovation.

The workshops will provide cattle producers with the tools and information required to remove toxic tall fescue and replace it with novel tall fescue varieties. Discussion topics will include fescue toxicosis, symptoms and causes, economics, establishment and first-year management, transition from toxic to non-toxic, demonstrations, financial incentives, seed testing, and more.           

Workshops

Thursday, March 15, 2018: Raphine, Virginia, at the Volunteer Fire Company, 2130 Raphine Road, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.     

Other workshops will be held in Mount Vernon, Missouri; Lexington, Kentucky; Pendleton, South Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cost:
Before March 1: $60
After March 1: $75

For more information, and to register, visit: http://grasslandrenewal.org/education.htm
Or, call: 660-895-5121               

Background
Tall fescue, or Kentucky 31, (K31) is naturally heat, drought, disease, and insect resistant. Studies have revealed that an endophyte, which is a fungus that grows between the cell walls of the fescue plant, is responsible for K31’s hardiness. In the mid-1970’s, research discovered that this endophyte was a dangerous toxin to foraging livestock. The fungus produces ergot alkaloids, compounds that shrink blood vessels and reduce blood flow. Reduced blood flow impairs an animal’s natural ability to cool itself in hot weather. Overheated cattle become lethargic and eat less, gaining less weight. During cold weather, blood vessels shrink, restricting blood flow and therefore, warmth to extremities. In severe cases, an animal’s hoof will slough off. The only course of action is to put the animal down. Toxic fescue also inhibits normal reproduction and milk production. Reduced conception rates and lower birth weights and growth rates have been documented.

Scientific research has led to the development of “novel-endophyte” strains for tall fescue. The endophytes are nontoxic to livestock and possess environmental stress resistances similar to K31.

The Alliance for Grassland Renewal provides educational schools to assist producers with successfully converting Kentucky 31 tall fescue to novel endophyte varieties. Instructors begin by establishing an understanding of fescue toxicosis and then walk producers through the conversion process. Conversion topics include establishment practices, fertility needs, smother crops, weed control, stand maintenance, and variety selection. The schools provide hands-on training for drill calibration in addition to pasture walks to observe different novel endophyte varieties.

 

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