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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Optimizing the Biology of the Animal-Plant Interface for Improved Sustainability of Forage-Based Animal Enterprises

Location: Forage-Animal Production Research

Title: Number of beef cows exposed toxic tall fescue: small or large?

Authors
item Bussard, Jessica -
item AIKEN, GLEN

Submitted to: American Forage and Grassland Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: November 10, 2012
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Tall fescue is a cool-season perennial grass that is extremely persistent and productive in a region between the temperate northeast and subtropical southeast that is commonly referred to as the “Fescue Belt”. Persistence of the grass in stressful environments has been attributed to alkaloids produced by a fungal endophyte that infects most tall fescue plants. Unfortunately, the enophyte also produces ergot alkaloids that causes fescue toxicosis in cattle, which annually costs the U.S. beef cattle industry nearly a billion dollars. Most acreage of tall fescue is in the Fescue Belt, which also has a high concentration of beef cows. Extension and USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service specialists, and researchers were surveyed to estimate the percentage of beef cows in the USA that are exposed to toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue and the percentage of U.S. grazing land acreage that contains > 20 endophyte-infected tall fescue. It was estimated from the survey that approximately 26% of cows in the USA are exposed to endophyte-infected tall fescue and that 11% of the total acreage of grazing lands contains at least 20% endophyte-infected tall fescue. This information will be of interest to those in the U.S. beef industry interested in maximizing cattle performance and well-being on pasture for the ultimate improvement of the industry’s global competitiveness.

Technical Abstract: The “Fescue Belt” encompasses approximately 10% of the U.S. land area, but contains a high concentration of the nation’s beef cows. Although it represents a small percentage of the country’s land area, there is a high concentration of beef cows in the Fescue Belt. A survey was of various extension and USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) specialists, and researchers in each Fescue Belt state was conducted. The survey posed 3 questions: 1) if fescue toxicosis is an issue in their state’s beef cattle industry, 2) what percentage of their state’s pasture acreage has = 20% tall fescue in its botanical composition, and 3) what percentage of their state’s beef cows are exposed to toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue,. Twnty-nine surveys were returned with at least one from each state of the fescue belt. All respondents stated that toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue is a major problem for their beef cattle industry. Based on survey results, the total acreage of pastures in the fescue belt with = 20% toxic tall fescue was approximately 37 million acres and 26% of beef cows that calved in 2011 were estimated to be located in the fescue belt and exposed to toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue. Results of the survey indicate that approximately a fourth of all beef cows in the USA are exposed to toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue.

Last Modified: 8/19/2014
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