Pub of the Month: Fescue Toxicosis – What It Is and How It Costs You, USDA-NRCS and Virginia Tech

This one page publication gives a quick overview of tall fescue, the fungal endophyte and how their interaction negatively affects livestock and on farm profitability. Download it here. This publication was produced by researchers at Virginia Tech as part of a Conservation Innovation Grant with USDA-NRCS. Other fact sheets produced include Managing Novel Tall Fescue for Persistence, Sampling Tall Fescue for Endophytes and Alkaloids, Strategies to Mitigate Tall Fescue Toxicosis, and Converting from Wildtype to Novel Tall Fescue.

Forage Timely Tips: June

  • Continue hay harvests. Minimize storage losses by storing hay under cover. 
  • Clip pastures for weeds and seedheads as needed.
  • Slow rotation allowing for a longer recovery period. 
  • Use portable fencing to decrease paddock size and increase paddock number.
  • Do NOT graze below the 3-4 inches.
  • When present, johnsongrass can provide high quality summer forage when managed.  
  • Crabgrass, a warm-season annual grass, can provide high quality summer grazing.   If crabgrass is desired, remember it needs some annual soil disturbance to keep coming back.
  • Begin grazing native warm-season grasses.  Start at 18-20” and stop at 8-10 inches.

Red Clover, Red Clover – Send Your Isoflavones Right Over

Thanks to major clover-centric breakthroughs by the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Forage-Animal Production Research Unit, we’ve found yet another reason to love clover this March.

While the four-leaf clover is a celebrated good luck charm in folk tradition, members of the genus Trifolium have long been a ‘holy grail’ for agronomists and farmers too. As natural nitrogen fixers, clovers help instill nitrogen in soil and lessen our reliance on chemical fertilizers to keep fields productive. Additionally, common species like red or white clover happen to be extremely palatable and can provide high quality protein to cattle at a low cost.

According to ARS microbiologist Michael Flythe, who worked with ARS plant physiologist Isabelle Kagan and ARS animal scientist Brittany Harlow to investigate potential plant-based antimicrobials, clovers are also an ideal alternative to synthetic bactericides used in cattle feed. They discovered that clover could effectively reduce hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria that live in cattle rumen (the first chamber of a ruminant animal’s digestive tract).

“Hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria decrease the amount of dietary protein that an animal can absorb through digestion,” said Flythe. “Decreased dietary protein causes loss in cattle growth and overall performance. When you add clover to cattle diets, special compounds in clover called isoflavones actually improve the quality and quantity of protein available to the animals.”

The magic of clover isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen in structure, doesn’t stop there; they also give cattle an additional defense against dangers like fescue toxicosis. Caused by the consumption of common endophyte infected tall fescue, a hardy grass, fescue toxicosis is a condition that results in tightened blood vessels, fertility problems, weight loss, and lowered milk production in livestock animals. It is estimated that fescue toxicosis costs the U.S. livestock industry $2 billion annually.

“One of the reasons that common tall fescue is so abundant and resilient is actually because it contains a natural chemical defense against herbivores, which acts as a toxin when ingested,” Flythe explained. “After it builds up in the cattle, the animals become ill because their blood vessels have constricted, impeding blood flow. But when cattle consume tall fescue with clover, the isoflavones open up their blood vessels and improve blood flow.   

While the cattle may be thankful for their lucky clovers, research indicates that isoflavones in clover can dilate arteries and promote healthy blood flow in humans as well. Clovers and their extracts have been used to treat migraines, increasing their potential as a natural remedy for other vasoconstrictive conditions.  – by Georgia Jiang, ARS Office of Communications

Reasons to Cut Hay Early

Most of our Kentucky hay comes from first cuttings of cool season grasses. This hay is often harvested late, sometimes very late, for a variety of reasons. Weather can derail the best of hay plans, but cutting on time remains the biggest way to improve forage quality. The point of this article is not to simply restate what most of you already know about the optimum stage to cut hay. The point is simply this – cut earlier than last year.

Many farm duties and the unpredictable weather delay first cuttings of hay resulting in low quality hay. In past years, tobacco took priority over hay harvest as in the picture above due to the clear financial benefit. But cutting hay earlier has clear benefits also. Photo by Dr. Jimmy Henning

Here are six reasons to cut hay early.

These reasons are based on a Tennessee study comparing three fescue hays cut May 3, May 14 and May 25. These dates corresponded to late boot/early head, early bloom, and early milk stage/seed forming, respectively. These hays were then fed to 500 lb. holstein heifers.

1) Intake is greater. The heifers ate more of the early cut hay, 13 lb/day compared to 11.7 and 8.6 for later cut hays.

2) Early cut hay had the highest digestibility and crude protein.

3) Performance is greater Gain per day ranged from 1.39 to 0.42 lb/day for the three hays. The earliest cut hay supported the best gains.

4) Small differences in digestibility have large improvements in animal gains. Maturity decreased gains per day much more than forage digestibility. A delay in cutting of twenty two days dropped digestibility by 17% (68 to 56%) but lowered daily gain dropped by 70% (1.39 to 0.42 lb/day).

5) Cutting on time sets up a second cutting opportunity. Hopefully this will come during better weather in June or early July.

6) Gain comes faster on early cut hay. If you calculate how long it would take to equal gains on each hay, you arrive at 95, 140 and 298 days respectively. Hay cut on May 25 could produce the same gain as hay cut on May 3 but it would take twice as much hay and three times as long!

Cutting hay early pays, especially for growing cattle. And small differences in maturity can make big differences in gain and your bottom line. But don’t worry about being perfect, just cut earlier than last year.  ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning for Farmer’s Pride

Additional USDA Pandemic Assistance Available to Alfalfa Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently announced the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. USDA is dedicating $6.5 billion in funding to reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs, with a specific focus on strengthening outreach to underserved producers and communities and small and medium agricultural operations. The original application period for CFAP 2 ended Dec. 11, 2020. However, USDA reopened CFAP 2 signup beginning April 5, 2021, for at least 60 days. A signup deadline will be announced at a later date.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provides Additional CFAP 2 Assistance for producers of price-trigger and flat rate crops. This payment is equal to the eligible acres of the crop multiplied by a payment rate of $20 per eligible acre. FSA will automatically issue payments to eligible producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications. Eligible producers who have already applied for CFAP 2 do not need to submit a new application to receive this payment.

Alfalfa falls under the “Flat-rate crops” designation. Flat-rate crops include crops that either do not meet the 5% price decline trigger or do not have data available to calculate a price change. Flat-rate crops were eligible for a payment of $15/acre in CFAP 2 for all acres certified to that commodity for 2020. Flat rate crops are now eligible for an additional payment of $20/acre under this additional assistance.

Here are a few important highlights regarding the additional assistance:

  • Sign-up will remain open for at least 60 days from April 5.
  • Farmers who have already applied for funding under CFAP 2 do not need to sign up again. Payments will be issued automatically.
  • Farmers are eligible for an additional payment equal to $20/acre.

Additional information can be found here.

Research Highlight from USDA-ARS Lexington

Recent research has found that isoflavones, present in red clover, may be responsible for reducing the effects of fescue toxicosis. Isoflavones act as on receptors present on blood vessels to promote vasodilation and improve blood flow, reversing the effects of ergot alkaloid induced vasoconstriction. The objective of this research was to evaluate the effect of isoflavone supplementation with tall fescue seed consumption on beef steer’s rumen and serum metabolomes (the mixture of chemicals present in the blood or digestive system). Seed was used because it contains high levels of ergot alkaloids like ergovaline, the main toxin in tall fescue. The rumen metabolome was largely impacted by endophyte infected seed, while the serum metabolome was influenced by isoflavone supplementation. In the rumen, the impact of the infected seed involved carbohydrate and nucleic acids metabolism. In the serum, differences in global metabolomes and individual metabolites involved in urea cycling and amino acid metabolic pathways were identified in animals receiving isoflavones and those who did not. This work supports the idea that dietary inclusion of isoflavones reduce the harmful effects of tall fescue toxicosis. In short, the effect of tall fescue on livestock is complicated, but the beneficial compounds in red clover have broad ranging beneficial effects.

From the Research Article: “Rumen and serum metabolomes in response to endophyte-infected tall fescue seed and isoflavone supplementation in beef steers” ~ Taylor Ault-Seay et al.

Dates for UK Spring Fencing School

Spring fencing schools will be offered on May 11th in Hopkinsville and May 13th in Owensboro. Both events include topics such as Fencing types and costs, Fence construction basics, Electric fencing basics, Innovations in fencing technologies and hands-on fence building. Cost is $30 to attend and includes supplies, educational materials and lunch. All Covid rules will apply. Register here.

Forage Timely Tips: May

  • Start hay harvests for quality forage. Consider making baleage to facilitate timely cutting.
  • Seed warm season grasses for supplemental forage once soil temperature is at 60 F.
  • Clip, graze, or make hay to prevent seedheads.
  • Rotate pastures based on height rather than time. 
  • Consider temporary electric fencing to subdivide larger pastures and save areas for hay.   
  • Scout pastures for summer annual weeds and control when the weeds are small.

Making an Old Fence Work!

Good fences let you sleep at night! One of the biggest challenges when renting pastureland is marginal perimeter fencing.  It is very hard to justify the investment in new fencing if you are on a short-term lease.  One option is to install an electrified offset on the interior of the perimeter fence (Figure 1).  This works especially well with old woven wire fences.  The electrified offset 1) helps to contain livestock, 2) extends the life of the existing fence by keeping animal pressure off of it, and 3) provides a source of electricity for further subdividing pastures with temporary fencing.  Lastly, offsets can be easily removed and taken with you if the lease doesn’t work out.  

Since electric fencing is a psychological barrier (nothing likes to get shocked) it needs to deliver a knee bending, eye watering jolt preferably to the moist nose of the animal.  It is imperative that the animal’s first experience with electric fencing be a really painful one.  For this to occur, offsets need to be installed correctly.  If you take your time and install electric fencing correctly, it can be an extremely effective tool to control livestock.  If you cut corners and use cheap materials or materials not designed for electric fencing, it can be an extremely frustrating experience.  The objective of this article is to provide you with some practical tips for installing offsets that can effectively control livestock and extend the life of an old fence.  

Use good quality offsets.  Make sure that plastic components in the offsets that you use are UV stabilized.  Saving a few pennies now can result in a real headache as plastic components start to breakdown in the sunlight.

Use 170,000 PSI high tensile wire with a Class III galvanization.  This wire is corrosion resistant, able to be hand tied, and economical.  A good quality high tensile wire will cost about 2.5 cents/ft.  One installed, fence should be tensioned just tight enough to take the slack out.    

Mount offsets at nose height of the livestock that you are trying to control.  The height of the offset is important since your goal is to shock the animal in the face.  For cattle this will be around 30 inches off the ground.  

Use twist on offsets for woven and barbed wire fences.  The offsets consist of two galvanized legs that are twisted onto the existing fence holding the electrified offset approximately 10 inches from the existing fencing.  One advantage of these offsets is that they move with the existing fencing reducing the chances of the electrified wire coming in contact with the old fence (Figure 2).  They are also easy to install and take off.

Use wood post offsets at beginning and end of runs and on problem posts.  I like to use a more rigid wood post offset at the beginning and end of runs.  This helps to get the offset wire away from the existing fencing (Figure 3).  I also like to use these offsets on problem posts with in the run, like old railroad ties that have the existing fencing wrapped around them (Figure 4).  

Start and end runs with an end strain or bullnose insulator designed for high tensile fencing.  These insulators are designed for the tension exerted by high tensile fencing (Figure 5).  They are constructed of either reinforced UV stabilized plastic or porcelain.   If the electrified offset is close to the existing fence at the start and end of runs, install the bull nose insulator 4 to 6 ft from the end post.  

Use a good quality double insulated cable designed for electric fencing for lead-out, jumping wires or going underneath gates.  Never use residential wire for electric fencing.  This wire is designed to carry 120 volts NOT 10,000.   

Always place underground wires in protective tubing. Whenever a cable carrying current is run under the ground, always place it in some type pipe or conduit that will protect it from future damage. Wires going under gates should be buried to a depth of approximately 6 to 12 inches. If not protected, breaks will occur in these wires and these shorts can be difficult to find and repair. I like to use pvc electrical conduit and secure it to post with a clamp (Figure 6).  The larger the conduit, the easier it is to push the double insulated cable through it.  I prefer to use ¾ or I-inch piping in most situations.  I also like to drill a hole in an end cap just large enough to slip the wire through and simply push the end cap onto the conduit with NO glue.  

Make all connections with clamps. Loose connections result loss of voltage. Connections should NOT be wrapped, but rather clamped together with a high-quality clamp that is designed for high tensile fencing (Figure 7). Never use clamps that are constructed of dissimilar metals. Although economy clamps constructed of cast metal are sometimes available, they often fail upon tightening. Saving a few cents on clamps often leads to exponential headaches in the future.

Use a doughnut or bull nose insulator secured to a wood post to make gentle turns.  Gentle turns where the offset wire pulls to the inside of the pasture can be make using a doughnut type or bull nose insulator secured to a stable post (Figure 8).  NEVER use wrap around insulators.  They almost always fail prematurely resulting in hard to find shorts.  

Use heavy duty wood post insulators to make gentle turns.  Gentle turns that pull toward to the outside of the pasture can be made by securing one or more heavy duty wood post insulators to a stable post.  In cases where the offset wire is too close to the old fencing, a treated 2 x 4” can be secured to the post with deck screws and the insulators can then be screwed to the board (Figure 9).  

Use a high-quality energizer.  Energizers are the heart of electric fencing systems and are NOT a component that you should try to “save” money on.  If electrical service is available, plug in energizers are considerably more powerful and offer the best value in terms of cost to power ratio. For remote areas, solar or battery powered energizers are viable alternatives for smaller acreages. Power comparisons of energizers should be done using “stored energy” which is measured in joules.  One accessory that I cannot do without is an energizer that has a remote control that allows you to shut the fence off from anywhere.  Once you have one, you will wonder how you ever got along without it!   

Proper grounding is essential. For an electric fencing to work properly, current from the fence must travel through the animal into the ground and back to the energizer. The grounding system on the energizer works as an “antenna” to collect this current and complete the circuit. Most of the problems associated with low voltage on an electric fence are caused by a poorly constructed grounding system. Grounding systems should have a minimum of 3 galvanized grounding rods, 10 ft apart, 6 ft in the ground, all connected with a single galvanized wire running from the energizer. For very large energizers or very dry conditions more grounding rods may be needed.

The above tips will help you install offsets capable of controlling all classes of livestock.  However, for these offsets to work properly they should be kept “hot” at all times and vegetation below them must be controlled.  This means that someone, preferably not you, will be manning a string trimmer this summer! ~ Dr. Chris Teutsch. Based on article in Cow Country News.

Figure 1.  Electrified offsets can breathe new life into an old fence.  They control livestock, extend the life of an existing fence, and allow for further subdivisions using temporary fencing.   

Figure 2.  Twist on offsets are easy to install and remove and are ideal for older fences since they move with the fencing material reducing the chances of shorts.  

Figure 3.  Wood post offsets are more rigid making them a good choice to install at the beginning and end of runs where there will be more pressure pushing back against them.  

Figure 4.  Wood post offsets are a good option for getting the hot wire away from posts that protrude and are littered with old fence.

Figure 5.  The beginning and ends of runs should be terminated using a bull nose insulator designed for high tensile fencing.  

Figure 6.  Double insulated lead out wire going under gates should always be placed in a pvc pipe to protect it from breaks.  

Figure 7.  Make all connections using a high-quality galvanized clamp.  Wrapping wires results in loose connections causing voltage losses.  

Figure 8.  Doughnut or bullnose insulators can be used to make gentle bends in the offset that pull toward the inside of the pasture.  

Figure 9.  Gentle bends that pull toward the outside of the pasture can be made using heavy-duty wood post insulators.  If the electrified offset is too close to the existing fence, then a treated 2 x 4 board can be mounted to the post.  

International Grassland Congress History Book is Now Available to Order or to Download Electronically

In 1927, recognizing the importance of grasslands in food security, a group of 16 scientists, from seven European countries, met in Leipzig, Germany to seek ways to improve grassland agriculture and communication among grassland scientists. Close to 100 years later, their efforts have evolved into the International Grassland Congress, an event attended by about 1000 delegates representing more than 80 countries.

Using first-hand accounts of those who lived through its history, this book traces the origin and development of the International Grassland Congress. It also gives insight on how historical events, organizational changes, and technical advances are affecting the event and grassland science as a whole. However, despite shifting priorities and technology, many basic principles, methods, and objectives emerging from the early research in grassland agriculture remain relevant today.

Written by Vivien Allen, Roger Wilkins, Garry  Lacefield, and Ray Smith. Download or purchase here.