Agricultural/Livestock Information


Contact:        Patrick Davis

                        Regional Livestock Field Specialist

                        MU Extension




Date:              Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Headline:  Add legumes to fescue pastures for better profits

STOCKTON, Mo. - Cattle producers see more profit when they add legumes to fescue pastures and manage grazing systems properly, says Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension specialist in livestock.

Fescue remains the hardy mainstay of southwest Missouri pastures. Adding legumes gives fescue fields more nutritional punch and profit.

Davis says proper management is key to making grasses and legumes work well together. This begins with a management intensive grazing system (MIG).

Under MIG, cattle graze on forage between 3 to 8 inches tall. Cattle begin grazing at 8 inches and eat forage to 3 inches followed by paddock rest until the forage reaches original height. This strategy promotes stronger roots and cattle graze best quality forage. Forage in this range also contains less ergovaline, a toxic ergot alkaloid.  The highest concentrations of ergovaline are in the bottom two inches of the plant and seed heads.

Add legumes into fescue pastures for other benefits. Pasture quality improves and the amount of toxic fescue is diluted when mixed.

“Proper incorporation and management of legume species, including red and white clover, or lespedeza is important for their persistence into your fescue sod,” says Davis.

Two seeding options are frost seeding or no-till drilling. Contact your local MU Extension agronomy field specialist for advice on seeding methods or download MU Guide G4652 from

To persist, legumes need time to grow without fescue competition and time to delay grazing pressure.  Proper MIG allows both, says Davis.  After grazing, allow a 4 to 5 – week rest period for young legume plants to improve chances of persistence. 

Before planting, test soil.  Make sure soil pH is greater than 6.0 for red and white clover and over 5.5 for lespedeza plantings.  The local MU Extension Center and agronomy field specialist can advise on proper soil testing procedures and fertility for growing these legumes.

“Legumes are higher quality than grasses because of the lower stem to leaf ratio.  This results in lower neutral detergent fiber and increased protein concentrations.  This combination improves forage intake, cattle performance and operation profit potential,” says Davis.

Total pasture legume coverage should be approximately 30%.  If coverage is above 50% then cattle bloat potential increases.

Davis gives these tips to reduce cattle bloat potential:

·         Restrict grazing and allow cattle time to adapt to the legume field

·         Provide cattle dry hay before turning them out to legume pasture to reduce legume intake

·         Provide poloxalene to cattle through bloat blocks or other ways of supplementation

Contact the MU Extension livestock or agronomy field specialist in your area for more information.  You may also find more information on how to improve your grasslands at


High nitrate in hay causes cow deaths
Published: Monday, Feb. 18, 2019

COLUMBIA, Mo. – On top of dealing with harsh winter weather in feeding cows, cattle farmers must guard against too much nitrate in poor-quality hay.

“Just from cases we’ve confirmed, I know of 150 cows dying in the last month,” says Tim Evans, head toxicologist at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

High nitrate, mostly concentrated in grass stems, causes quick death, Evans says. Nitrate converts to nitrite in a cow’s rumen. Nitrite in the blood blocks oxygen uptake. Without oxygen, cows die quickly.

“Testing low-quality forage for nitrate is urgent,” Evans said. “We’re trying to get word out. Producers need to know potential problems.”

In an MU Extension teleconference with area livestock specialists, Eldon Cole, Mount Vernon, told of two cases in southwestern Missouri. One farmer fed new forage to his herd of 70 cows. Forty were dead the next morning. In another case, 20 cows died.

In both cases, producers used nitrogen or poultry litter to boost forage growth last fall.

MU Extension centers may have kits used for testing nitrate in drought areas last summer, Evans said. Those work best on split stems that are still moist.

Area extension specialists for livestock or agronomy advise producers on testing and forming safe rations.

MU Extension beef nutritionist Eric Bailey says supplements dilute nitrate in cow diets. Adding starchy grain speeds up rumen fermentation more than other feeds. Hay ferments slowly.

“Nitrogen is needed by the rumen bugs, and nitrate provides it,” Bailey adds. “Bugs break nitrate down to provide nitrogen. When fermentation is slow, not much nitrate is digested.”

Unused nitrate, converted to nitrite, spills into the blood. Adding grain to hay diets speeds nitrate usage.

“I’d start with half a pound of grain per 100 pounds of bodyweight. In short order that goes to a pound of grain per hundredweight as rumens adapt to more grain,” Bailey said.

The MU diagnostic lab also tests for nitrates in suspected poisoning cases. Not all deaths are caused by nitrate. Testing fluid from eyes of dead animals for nitrate confirms the diagnosis.

A host of events add to current problems, Evan says. Shortages of hay and grass followed droughts starting in 2017 through the summer of 2018.

“Many farmers feed hay they wouldn’t normally feed,” Evans says. “With hay shortages, they feed what they can get.”

Farmers must use caution with hay from unknown sources.

In general, nitrate accumulates first in lower stems of grass and then moves higher. This year that might be Sudan grass, millet, barnyard grass or other forage not usually baled for hay.

Nitrate distribution isn’t uniform through forages. “In one case, with 14 dead cows, a farmer sent four hay samples,” Evan said. “Two samples had no nitrate, one had moderate nitrate, while the fourth had toxic levels over 1 percent nitrate.”

A visual test for nitrate poisoning in cattle is to look at the blood. Blood low in oxygen will be chocolate brown.

Animals surviving nitrate poisoning may appear unthrifty in recovery. Pregnant cows may abort calves or deliver early weak calves. Testing an expelled fetus can confirm high nitrate exposure.

With shortages of quality hay and frigid weather with higher feed needs, we saw this coming, Evans says.

MU Extension state forage specialist Craig Roberts warned herd owners last fall to go light on adding nitrogen to fall grass growth. Nitrogen or poultry litter makes more hay growth but can increase nitrate or other toxins.

Writer: Duane Dailey


Sharp turn to cold brings threat of fescue foot in beef cow herds

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Odd fall weather and fescue pasture growth set up potential poisonous pastures causing fescue foot in cow herds.

Fall growth after a drought produces more toxins in infected tall fescue grass. The poison develops after rains start regrowth following a drought, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension specialist.

Roberts urges herd owners to keep close watch on their cows. "At first sign of a limp, take the cow off the toxic grass," Roberts says.

"Make plans for alternative feeds," he says. That includes pasture without Kentucky 31 fescue. On most farms, fescue remains the most-used forage. It is hardy because the toxin protects the plant from pests.

Another choice is to confine and feed limping cows on grain and nontoxic hay. Ensiled fescue hay should be avoided. Plastic-wrapped moist hay, or balage, preserves toxins.

Several factors worsen fescue toxicosis causing fescue foot, Roberts says.

Ergot alkaloids produced by a fungus in infected fescue restrict blood flow in cattle. Fescue foot develops in long cold spells. In cows, low blood flow to feet allows frozen hooves. In worst cases, hooves fall off.

Injured cattle cannot walk to graze pastures. They stay in place and die from lack of feed. Roberts says, "We've known of this syndrome since 1994. This year may be worse than usual."

Spreading extra nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to boost grass growth also boosts production of toxins, he says.

In a normal year, extension specialists recommend adding 60 pounds of nitrogen. This year, after the long drought and shortage of hay, many farmers added 80 pounds of N. There's been good grass-growing weather this fall, Roberts says. The extra growth brings more toxins.

The trigger can be continued low temperatures. "A cold snap of one day isn't a problem," he says. "A week of freezing could be a disaster."

There's no cure for fescue foot, but prevention works.

Herd owners who converted toxic fescue pastures to a novel-endophyte fescue need not worry. "Fall growth is a bonus on new pastures," Roberts says. "We see benefits on pastures that have been converted." There are no toxins and forage quality is higher with the new fescues.

More nitrogen fertilizer on novel-endophyte grass brings more feed.

Prevention includes not grazing fall-grown fescue too short. Recent research shows most toxins in the fall stay in the lower 2 inches of the fescue plant.

Another preventive plan is to feed winter hay in fall cold spells. The pastures left standing in winter decrease in toxins with time. By January there will be less poison in the grass. Stockpile can be grazed late in winter with few problems.

Management-intensive grazing with quick rotations through paddocks helps prevent short grazing. "With rotational grazing, cows are moved before they grub grass into the ground," Roberts says.

Cool-season grasses have an advantage, growing rapidly two times a year: Growth in spring and fall adds to grazing seasons.

Spring grazing requires caution, as toxins concentrate in seed heads and stems. Those are easily grazed by cows. There are no seed heads in fall growth.

The only cure for fescue toxicosis is killing infected pasture and reseeding to a novel-endophyte fescue.

Schools teaching reseeding were held in Missouri for years. Now those schools are held in the fescue belt across the Southeast. More schools will be in March, Roberts said.

Schools cover six states from Missouri southeast to North Carolina and Georgia. Times and places are on the Alliance for Grassland Renewal website. Go to

Source: Craig Roberts, 573-882-0481

1-Day School

8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Registration fee includes meal, refreshments and proceedings

Monday, March 18, 2019
University of Missouri
Southwest Research Center
14158 Hwy H, Mt. Vernon, MO
For more information, contact Jendel Wolfe at (417) 466-2148 ext: 21 or

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