Fescue talk dominates pasture renovation event
DUBLIN, Va. — The broad strokes of pasture renovation were presented by Dr. Gabriel Pent, a Virginia Tech scientist, who said that all counties in Virginia now have endophyte-infected fescue growing in their pastures and a realistic approach to dealing with it is management rather than renovation.
The meeting was designed to address pasture damage caused by last year’s weather across the state as well as problems caused by endophyte-infected fescue.
Pent and Pulaski County Extension Agent Morgan Paulette who organized the meeting for farmers in the New River Valley both noted that helping pastures recover does not always mean complete renovation.
“This is a good time to have this discussion across the state,” Pent said.
Paulette pointed to a number of reasons pastures may need help this spring.
The overly wet fall and winter topped his list, but compaction, fertility, drought, hoof disturbance, management and forage species were also cited.
Pent pointed out problems that are caused by endophyte-infected fescue.
The ergot alkaloids produced by the endophyte are blamed for the problems.
They cause circulatory problems in the cattle keeping blood from pumping through the body and cooling the animals.
Dealing with this problem can mean getting rid of the endophyte infected fescue and replacing it with novel fescue.
In cattle, Pent said there are a variety of symptoms of toxicosis.
The most notable is fescue foot where lack of circulation can cause the loss of feet.
Many cattle producers believe their cattle do not have a problem with fescue toxicosis unless this symptom is present, he said, but that is not the case.
Most infected cattle show symptoms that are less dramatic but damaging to the well-being of the animals and farm profitability.
Cattle may have such production problems as low feed intake and rate of gain, low birth and weaning weights, birthing problems and poor reproduction and poor milk production, Pent said.
Folks can visually find such symptoms such as coats that do not shed properly, animals standing in water or mud holes to cool their feet.
A big problem is low spring calving rates caused by the endophyte.
Pent pointed to herd management using fall calving as one solution to the problem.
It comes down to better managing the pastures or removing the toxic fescue, he said, but since renovation is expensive, management may be the better way to go.
Complete renovation involves taking land out of production for a year.
Pent said this is not an approach many farmers want to take.
He suggested renovating about 25 percent of the pastures using novel endophyte fescue that does not have the toxin.
This can then be worked into the grazing plan to meet situations that arise through the year.
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