Tall fescue is a popular grass used for grazing, hay and erosion control in the eastern United States, but one Clemson University expert believes this grass could be responsible for more than $1 billion per year in livestock production losses.
Tall fescue is a perennial bunch-type grass that grows rapidly during spring and fall. The majority of tall fescue plants contain a fungus that creates compounds which are beneficial to the plants, but toxic to livestock. The compounds created by the fungus are called “ergot alkaloids.” Susan Duckett, a professor of animal and veterinary sciences, and some of her students are conducting a study on the impact of these compounds on fetal development and postnatal growth of livestock that graze on tall fescue.
“Our hypothesis is that exposure to ergot alkaloids during pregnancy reduces fetal growth and subsequent postnatal growth of the offspring,” Duckett said. “Our study focuses on determining when exposure to these compounds is most critical to fetal growth and development.”
Toxins that result from the compounds created by the fungus create several problems for grazing animals, including low-to-no weight gain and loss of weight, as well as reproduction problems such as low conception rates and poor offspring survival.
Results of the Clemson study will be used to develop alternative management strategies for livestock beef cattle, sheep, goats and other small ruminant animals.