Facts about, assistance with fescue are available
PEARISBURG, Va. — Sweltering heat, a change of venue, an early supper, lots of information about fescue, good questions and a mystery surrounding a cover crop were all part of the first Giles Pasture Walk here Aug. 29.
The tour on the Giles Land Lab was set to start at a nearby high school but so many school activities were scheduled on a busy afternoon the event was moved to a nearby church.
“The land lab is a great educational tool,” Hunter Musser of the Farm Agency Service in Christiansburg told the group.
The lab is a piece of land near the high school here that is being used for agriculture research. Ben Woods is the manager for the lab.
Three speakers shared some of the developing information about fescue with the farmers who attended the meeting.
Some of it was new and much of it was a review what is known about this grass producers either love or hate.
“We’ve come to be comfortable with fescue,” Jeannie Layton-Dudding, Giles Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, said.
She noted that symptoms people think are normal may well be those that can alert producers to fescue toxicosis.
Three symptoms are reduction if feed intake, reduction in weight grain and reduction in milk production.
Other symptoms Woods outlined are higher respiration, elevated temperatures, rough coats and lower reproductive performance.
Fescue foot and lost tails are others.
Cattle suffering from the toxicosis may spend more time in the shade or water, losing grazing time, Layton-Dudding added.
Dr. John Fike, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and an Extension forage specialist, talked about some of the science associated with understanding endophyte infected fescue and fielded questions from individuals about their problems.
Fike also distributed a hand-out explaining the toxicosis and some ways to mitigate the alkaloids that cause them.
“Fescue toxicosis occurs as a result of a symbiotic relationship between tall fescue plants and a fungus,” Fike wrote. “This endophyte (meaning ‘within the plant’) grows between the cells of the fescue plant and produces toxins that support the plan’s survival. Unfortunately, these compounds harm livestock.”
He noted that type of alkaloids produced by the endophyte are thought to be the toxic agent.
They are the ergopeptide alkaloids, he continued.
“Alkaloids depress prolactin and in turn reduce milk yield,” Fike continued. “These compounds also cause constriction of blood vessels. Thus, cattle can’t easily dissipate heat in summer and they can’t easily heat their extremities in winter.
“That’s why they form wallows or head to surface waters in summer and they can lose ear tips, switches and even hooves in winter.”
He reviewed research on the various effects of toxins and their solutions, offering graphs to show the differences. These are contained in his printed material.
Fike suggested stockpiled fescue in pastureland rather than fescue stored as hay may be a better way to provide good nutrition from fescue.
Travis Bunn, Patrick County Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, reviewed his research comparing novel and toxic fescue.
The 37-day grazing trial was conducted in October 2015. It compared the novel and endophyte fescues.
As the day cooled, the group moved to the land lab behind the church where Woods had sowed a stand of millet as a cover crop. Something went wrong with the crop, but no one in attendance is yet sure just what.
The farmers and scientists said they are planning to test the soil, review the planting methods and study other factors to try and solve the mystery of the cover crop.
Woods explained that he has a unique relationship with the land that is now the lab.
Earlier in his life he farmed the pasture the site that was home to a dairy in the 1960s and has seen how it has been used since.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925