Great article in Progressive Cattleman.
Great article in Progressive Cattleman.
Symptoms of ergovaline poisoning in livestock are:
The cause is that the fungus is a vaso constricting substance called ergovaline. A good explanation comes from Endophyte Service Laboratory, College of Agriculture Sciences
Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 USA.
“The toxin ergovaline is a vaso-constrictor, it constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood circulation to the outer parts of the animal’s body. Animals that have consumed a toxic dose of ergovaline will have difficulty regulating body temperature. The constriction of blood flow also can cause “fescue foot”. Fescue foot is characterized by gangrene or tissue death in the legs, ears and tails.”
Recent research done by Matt Booher, Crop and Soil Agent at Virginia Coopoerative Extension and John Benner indicates that despite our best efforts, endophyte infected fescue at all stages of growth causes some level of poisoning to livestock.
Seems mind boggling that we farmers and ranchers continue to allow this non-native plant to be grazed by our stock, doesn’t it!? Tannachton Farm is on a mission to remove it. It will be a fight since the grass is allelopathic and persistent!
One would think you could just pull in and start with tillage for planting crops as part of my fescue elimination project. Alas, that isn’t true in my case. Since i had subdivided the 120 acres into 6 paddocks with 2 wire hi-tensile electric wire, all this had to be wound up and stowed for replacement after 4 years as per my plan. Old fence posts and wired had to be pulled up and stacked for burning when time allows and entrance gateway had to be widened.
Dallas and I did this in a couple days of remarkable weather in November!
Not even going to bore you with a long history of a specific grass – I don’t even want to read about it. Given the little dab of history i’ve uncovered that was already known about toxic endophyte infested tall fescue, E+ tall fescue being sold as a wonder grass in the early 1940’s must surely have been one of the most duplicitous marketing schemes ever played on the American farmer. And we fell hook, line, and sinker for it. Now planted and still being planted on at least 35-40 million acres across the midwest and southwest United States.
Tall fescue has good attributes – it surely does. You can overgraze it, trample it, burn it, freeze it, mow it, dilute it (with other forages), plough it and it will come back year after year even stronger yet. But, as i have shared earlier, that persistence is purchased with losses in the health of livestock and decimated wildlife forage and habitat.
As evidenced by the following documents, I suspect we could keep digging backwards in time and discover that at least one cultivar of Tall Fescue has been wreaking havoc for many, many years.
Boy, howdy, now there’s an exciting title and one to really pull in a reader eager to learn about such a thing. Well, not, of course, but to cattle farmers and ranchers across a great portion of the United States, it’s a reality that sucks an estimated $1 billion out of our collective pockets EACH year!
in 1943 Kentucky 31 variety of fescue was commercially introduced and sold, it seemed at first a godsend to sod forming, persistence, deep rootedness (soil conservation), and production for cattle and other livestock producers. In the late 1970’s, scientists at last identified that fescue hosts a fungus that can produce toxic compounds called ergovaline. However, it is important to note, that reports of toxic effects of grazing infected fescue have been around at least since the early 1900’s. Why didn’t the light bulb go off that there is a problem that needs addressing BEFORE scattering it all over the US!? The only answer that seems reasonable is that establishment of the grass is cheap and easy and the resultant health concerns in stock are a silent drain.
Whatever the case may be, I’m now on a mission to eradicate to a degree as much as possible toxic fescue from my pastures. In so doing, cattle health and numbers should increase, calf gains and cow milking ability should increase as well as reproduction improvements. Additionally, soil health and tilth should improve, thereby increasing its moisture capturing and holding capacity (resulting in less runoff and erosion). Lastly, but certainly not least, ridding the pastures of tall fescue will greatly improve wildlife habitat – especially ground nesting species such as quail.
The fruits of this project will likely be for the next generation and i ask myself if it is really worth the expense and effort to make a bold move in such uncertain times of low cattle prices. Time will tell, i guess.
I think I’ll put these entries in a separate category so my reports and progress can be easily accessed. I’m no Pioneer Woman like Dee, (ya gotta admire the outreach she has done with her whit and way with words), but if you have an interest in organic, no chemical, minimal tillage farming, pasture renovation, cattle rearing for producing clean healthy food while improving (regenerating is the popular term) our environment, come alongside and join the conversation. I will enjoy any questions.