Crops Livestock News

Get ahead of fescue toxicosis with seedhead suppression


If your cattle operation is smack dab in the fescue belt, tall fescue management is an issue you’re probably always trying to manage and there’s good reason to. The USDA Agricultural Research Service estimates that almost one in five (17.2 percent) of all cows and heifers in the United States in 2009 were exposed to toxic endophyte-infected fescue.

It’s not often producers can implement a single practice that deliver a double-barrel benefit to fescue management, but that’s what Dow AgroSciences’ seedhead suppression product aims to do each spring. Chaparral herbicide focuses on effective weed control so producers can grow more low-cost forage while suppressing fescue seedhead for fewer toxic effects.

“With fescue toxicosis, what we see by suppressing that seedhead we maintain a very high quality forage later in the season. We do not prevent ergot alkaloids from entering the animal’s body which is one of the of the things that causes fescue toxicosis. What we do is by maintaining that vegetative state, we keep those animals in a higher plane of nutrition and what we see is they just handle toxic fescue much better and perform much better,” said Scott Flynn, Field Scientist, Dow AgroSciences. “Compared to a lot of other programs out there that might be supplemental feeding or putting additives in feed, we are using our forage base. We are modifying it slightly to make it more nutritious and mitigating toxicosis so there is very low input from a dollar perspective compared to other methods out there dealing with fescue toxicosis.”

Symptoms of endophyte-infected fescue can include:

  • Elevated body temperatures
  • Reduced feed intake and weight gains
  • Poor conception rates and lower calving percentages
  • Reduced milk production and lower weaning weights
  • Lost hooves and docked tails

According to Flynn, the biggest group of producers to benefit from Dow AgroSciences’ seedhead suppression product has been cow/calf producers.

“When we look at cow/calf operations, people that have had severe issues with pregnancy rates in their herd, we have seen as much as a 10 to 15 percent point increase in conception rates of those animals,” Flynn said. “For instance, we were working with a farm in Southern Missouri that we took their herd from an average of about 75 to 80 percent up to almost 95 percent through the use of seedhead suppression.”

Flynn said the company is also starting to see results in stocker cattle operations. Recent studies that came out of the USDA and University of Kentucky showed that stocker cattle grazing in Chaparral-treated pastures were gaining about a quarter pound to half pound more a day than non-pastures.

“The biggest benefits we see financially is that we are probably spending less time and money keeping those animals healthy,” Flynn said. “We are saving money by keeping more of our cattle on farm and not culling those animals and we are also getting those calves up to a higher weaning weight a lot quicker.”

While there have been limited trials in the feedlot, Pat Burch, Field Scientist, Dow AgroSciences pointed to additional research at the USDA/University of Kentucky where the animals came in from a suppressed pasture using Chaparral actually performed better in the feedlot.

Chaparral can be used in both intensive grazing and rotational grazing operations, however both Flynn and Burch recommend applying the seedhead suppression product to a rotational grazing system.

“One of the things we hear a lot with rotational grazers is it’s hard to keep up with fescue. In some cases, they don’t even want to fertilize fescue because it will grow so fast that the cattle actually can’t keep up with it,” Flynn said. “This system works really well with rotational grazers where you can spray a certain percentage of your acres, say it’s 25 percent, and then you can keep up with the rest of your pastures and then rotate to that pasture later in the year, maybe in June when normally you would have a very poor quality forage out there. So a rotational grazing system seems to optimize the seedhead suppression effect we have and is probably the most beneficial to the producer.”

“One observation that people can expect is that cattle graze a lot longer and more aggressively. When they are in a higher quality forage that results from suppressing those seedheads, animals are out there grazing late in the morning. On a pasture that is not suppressed they might be hanging out in the shade or over in the mud hole trying to get cool, trying to get their temperatures down,” Burch said. “They feel much better, they are out there grazing, they are very active. Producers who use this, because it works so well on a rotational grazing system, they are going to have to monitor those fields because they are going to be grazing a lot more and putting on higher weight gains per day. They are consequently going to have to move those cattle a little bit quicker than they may have had to move them in the past just because they are foraging more aggressively.”

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