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Pros and cons of fescue toxicity – part VIII

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In my last few columns, I’ve discussed some common syndromes of fescue toxicosis in cattle including fescue toxicity problems in horses, reproduction problems in mares including abortions, difficult birth (dystocia), longer or prolonged gestation, thickness in placenta, deaths of foals, retained placentas, little to no milk production (agalactia), mare death during foaling, some biology of the causal agent, benefits of fungal endophyte, endophyte free tall fescue, and non-toxic endophytes and their effects on tall fescue and animal performance and level of endophyte infection in pasture. 

My discussion will now focus on the possible solutions of fescue toxicity problem.

Possible and practical solutions 

There are several solutions that can be applied to deal with the fescue toxicity problem. These solutions could be relatively inexpensive to highly expensive. These all depend on management options, producer expectations and type of operations. 

Some low-cost management practices can help alleviate, but not eliminate fescue toxicity problems. These practices are often effective especially for animals where toxic pastures are diluted with other forage species mixtures and also where toxicity problems to livestock are not pronounced. Below are a few practical and relatively low-expense options.

It’s important to manage the pasture to favor other grasses (e.g., orchardgrass, meadow bromegrass, smooth bromegrass) in the sward for diluting toxic effect of tall fescue. For example, early and close grazing of tall fescue in the spring can prevent shading of other grasses allowing them to grow vigorously. Nitrogen fertilization in the summer can enhance the growth of other grasses.

Operations can also close grazing of toxic endophyte infected pastures and mow the seeds of tall fescue grasses. This can reduce the intake of highly toxic seeds by livestock hence reducing fescue toxicity problems.

Grass-legume mixtures can also reduce fescue toxicity problems significantly. Seeding forage legumes (e.g., alfalfa, red clover, white clover) into toxic endophyte infected pastures can dilute the fescue toxic effects and improve animal performance. This practice could be a viable and feasible option for many producers.

Producers can also feed hay (e.g., orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass, meadow bromegrass, alfalfa, timothy) other than toxic tall fescue. This also can help reduce toxicity problems greatly in the winter. Feeding grain can also be beneficial to animals consuming tall fescue infected by toxic endophyte.

I will continue discussion on the possible solutions of fescue toxicity problems in future columns.

Anowar Islam is a professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or

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