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Managing Fescue Toxicosis

Fescue is the predominant forage across at least one million acres of pastureland in Virginia. This hardy grass is well-adapted to Virginia soil but causes issues in livestock which are most pronounced in summer months. Fescue toxicosis constricts blood vessels, which makes affected individuals less heat-tolerant. In extreme cases, we can see sloughing of hooves (see picture), feet, and tails. More typically, we see rough haircoats, increased time

Sloughing of hooves due to fescue toxicosis.
Sloughing of hooves due to fescue toxicosis.

spent in shade or water at the expense of grazing (leading to reduced growth), and increased respiratory rates, temperatures, and salivation. Fescue can have negative impacts on reproduction and milk production. Here are different strategies for managing the effects of fescue in our livestock:

  • Avoid grazing endophyte-infected fescue during peak summer months. Fescue is ideally grazed in the spring when it is in the vegetative stage. Stockpiling fescue late summer through early fall can also provide excellent late fall to early winter grazing.

  • Manage heat stress by providing adequate water and shade. Provide high-quality mineral as deficiencies can compound the symptoms of fescue toxicosis.

  • Improve pastures by introducing legumes such as red clover. There are also novel endophyte and endophyte-free varieties of fescue available.

  • Feed additives and mineral designed to help tolerate summer heat in the face of endophyte exposure can be considered when other strategies are not an option.

  • Be aware of the symptoms of toxicosis and contact your veterinarian if they reach a point that requires intervention.

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