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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #381031

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

Location: Forage-animal Production Research

Title: Clover makes fescue better for goats

item Flythe, Michael

Submitted to: Trade Journal Publication
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/15/2021
Publication Date: 1/15/2021
Citation: Flythe, M.D. 2021. Clover makes fescue better for goats. Trade Journal Publication. 33(1):18-19.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Goats give us a lot of flexibility in terms of forage that can be utilized. However, most herds rely partly or entirely on grass. In Kentucky and the surrounding region, our predominant cool season grass is tall fescue. The common tall fescue variety has a fungal endophyte, a symbiotic fungus that lives inside the tissues of the plant. The endophyte makes the grass hearty and resistant to pests, but it also produces a toxin that can harm the animals that graze on the common variety of tall fescue. The resulting condition is called fescue toxicosis, the major symptom of which is vasoconstriction, a decrease in the size of diameter of blood vessels. Blood flow decreases in the constricted vessels. In warm weather, the animals have difficulty dissipating heat and can become heat stressed. In the cold, the lack of blood flow to the extremities can lead to gangrene in extremities hooves (called fescue foot). There are a number of management strategies to deal with fescue toxicosis. It has long been observed that animals perform better on tall fescue when there is also clover in the pasture. Research at USDA-ARS has shown that clover actually reverses vasoconstriction. Clovers and other legumes make a family of plant compounds called isoflavones that act as vaso-dilators; they open up blood vessels and increase blood flow, reversing many of the problems associated with fescue toxicosis. Clovers are not a "magic bullet" and there are some drawbacks. If a pasture has more clover than grass, then bloat is a possibility. Keep an eye out for bloat and be prepared to move the animals or put out supplement that treats bloat. The same isoflavones that reverse fescue toxicosis are also estrogenic. Sheep are particularly sensitive to estrogens. In spite of these challenges, clover is a high-protein, highly-digestible forage that fixes its own nitrogen. The newly understood benefits of isoflavones makes clover a potentially useful tool for goat producers.