Based on the recent observation of cattle in Barry, Lawrence, Newton and Jasper counties, Eldon Cole, a field specialist in livestock with University of Missouri Extension, said it is evident that the fescue toxicity syndrome is alive and well.
Whether or not your cattle have fescue toxicity syndrome, when it comes time to sell your cattle, be aware of their appearance.
“When you gather your cattle to sell, hairy, mud-caked cattle causes the buyers to either not bid at all on them or do so less aggressively than they would normally," Cole said. "Experience has taught them those cattle will be a problem when they hit the feedlot."
Standing in Ponds
Cole said he is often asked if cattle standing is ponds is a sign of fescue toxicity syndrome.
“Honestly, whether cattle are on toxic fescue or not, they will stand in ponds,” Cole said. “Sometimes it is for protection from flies and other times it is simply to cool off when the heat index soars.”
A University of Missouri field trial in the 1990s compared cow-calf performance on two groups. One had access to a pond; the other did not and got their water from an automatic waterer from a well. Both groups of cattle were grazing on "hot" fescue.
“There was very little difference in weight gains with a slight edge to those with pond access,” Cole said.
While driving the backroads of southwest Missouri counties, Cole observed several characteristics worth noting.
Even on a day when the heat index approached 100 degrees some cattle were grazing Kentucky-31 fescue
Fall-calving cows tended to be slicker haired than those nursing big calves.
Most of the herd bulls were not muddy.
Lighter colored cattle were more likely to be in the sun grazing.
“This was just a windshield survey on a given day but it drives home the point that there is still work to be done to reduce the severity of fescue problems,” Cole said.
Steers on toxic fescue will likely be gaining a half-pound per day or less. Cows will have lighter weaning weights on their spring-born calves by 50 to 75 pounds.
Perhaps the most staggering cow problem is a pregnancy rate down around 70 percent or worse if you use a strict breeding season.
“Late summer is a good time to analyze the extent of fescue problems on your place,” Cole said. “You should identify pastures that give you and your cattle fescue fits.”