Start Date: May 15, 2009
End Date: May 14, 2014
Tall fescue, the primary forage grass found in Kentucky and surrounding states, is extremely well adapted to the region. However, it harbors an endophytic fungus that produces toxicants (ergot alkaloids) which are harmful (e.g., reduced milk production, growth and reproduction) to grazing animals, leading to reduced animal well-being and subsequent farm profits. In fact, annual production losses for U.S. forage-livestock industries is conservatively estimated at one billion dollars. Simply replacing tall fescue with another forage to alleviate the problem has not been successful due to a variety of problems (e.g., soil quality and topography issues, the availability of a quality, persistent, and productive alternative forage). Recent expansion of the goat industry in Kentucky and surrounding states has raised concerns, that as with cattle, sheep and horses, goats might be adversely affected by the toxicants through direct impact or indirectly by making goats more prone to other endemic health challenges such as parasites and foot rot. To determine the effects of grazing endophyte-infected tall fescue on meat type crossbred goats, does will graze either endophyte-infected (n = 3 pastures, 5 does/pasture) or endophyte-free (n = 3 pastures, 5 does/pasture) tall fescue during each of 3 years. Three breeding age bucks (male goat) will be maintained on endophyte-free forage to prevent potential toxicant effects on male reproductive function confounding those being assessed in the female. At the end of the grazing season each year, does (female goats) will be removed from pasture and placed with a buck for breeding. At regular intervals over the grazing season, body weight, parasite load, serum prolactin and alkaloid levels, ruminal and foot bacterial cultures, and doppler ultrasound measures of a peripheral blood flow as well as reproductive performance (e.g., ultrasound for conception, kidding rate) following breeding will be used to assess the effects of grazing endophyte-infected tall fescue on the health and performance of does and their kids. The resultant data will be used to aid in the design of management protocols and treatments that will ultimately result in improved animal well-being and aid in the sustainability of rural communities.