Fescue toxicosis is caused by ergot alkaloids produced by the naturally occurring fungal endophyte. Many scientists think that ergovaline is the primary alkaloid causing the issues, but there may be others involved. Research has shown that KY-31 infected tall fescue contains alkaloids all year, but the level is particularly high in the spring when seedheads are produced.
The question has come up recently about the toxicity of KY-31 infected tall fescue hay. Research from the University of Missouri indicates that ergovaline and total ergot alkaloid levels decline significantly when tall fescue is cut, dried, and baled for hay. In their study, alkaloid levels dropped between approximately 30 to 60 percent when tall fecue was made for hay. It is important to realize that alkaloids were still present in the hay, sometimes to levels that produce symptoms of fescue toxicosis. There were some situations where levels were reduced enough that any fescue toxicosis sysptoms should be minimal. Below are methods to reduce alkaloid levels in hay:
1) Raise the cutting height to 3 inches
2) Delay feeding for at least one month after harvest
3) Seed clovers in tall fescue hayfields
4) Cut before seedheads are present
~ Excerpt from November Hay and Forage Grower, by Gary Bates.
To learn more about managing toxic tall fescue in pastures and hayfields or to replace with new novel tall fescues, consider attending the Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop in Lexington on March 19th. Early registration is only $65. Find more info or reserve your spot here or contact Krista Lea at UKForageExtension@uky.edu.