Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/28/2016
Publication Date: 12/13/2016
Citation: Aiken, G.E. 2016. From the Lab Bench: Stocker production on tall fescue…It can be done!. Cow Country News. Pg. 48.
Interpretive Summary: A column was written to present management options to improve weight gain performance and well-being on toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue by using new management options to alleviate or mitigate fescue toxicosis. These management options are: 1) replacing toxic endophyte fescue with one of the commercially available fescue cultivars infected non-toxic, or novel, endophytes is the management option to truly alleviate fescue toxicosis, 2) over-seed clovers into toxic endophyte tall fescue to dilute the toxic ergot alkaloids in the diet and improve diet quality, 3) chemically suppress seedhead emergence of tall fescue to eliminate the availability of the highly toxic seedheads, and 4) feed soy hulls at 0.75 to 0.9 percent of body weight to dilute ergot alkaloids in the diet and enhance diet quality. Further, there was mitigation of fescue toxicosis. Compared to a pasture-only control, ear implantation increased average daily gain by 13 percent, soy hulls increased it by 30 percent, but combining the two inputs increased gain by 70 percent. Cost effectiveness of feeding soy hulls was found to be high with soy hull prices less than or equal to $150 per ton and over a wide range of cattle market prices. There are options for producing feeder calves on tall fescue. Each option requires extra input costs, but each also has an opportunity cost (money lost when grazing toxic endophyte fescue with no managements to enhance weight gain efficiency).
Technical Abstract: Cattle production in the Fescue Belt, which overlays the transition zone between the temperate northeast and subtropical southeast, has been primarily cow-calf production. Other production systems, such as backgrounding post-weaned calves on pasture for the feedyard, commonly referred to as stocker production, are available. Toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue, which covers much of the fescue belt, causes fescue toxicosis that limits weight gain and well-being. Poor weight gain efficiency is the primary reason that producers in the Fescue Belt do not produce stockers on toxic endophyte fescue. However, there are management options that can alleviate of mitigate the adverse effects of the toxic endophyte on growth rates of growing calves. Replacing toxic endophyte fescue with fescue cultivars infected non-toxic, or novel, endophytes is a management option for alleviation of fescue toxicosis. Clovers can be overseeded into toxic endophyte fescue to dilute the toxic ergot alkaloids and mitigate fescue toxicosis. Chemical seedhead suppression is another management option for enhancing weight gain performance by suppressing the emergence of highly toxic seed heads that cattle selectively graze. These management options offer opportunity to retain weaned calves and cost effectively add value from the improved weight gain performance and well-being.