Things To Watch For


   Cattlemen have a lot of things to watch for but in the next couple of weeks I encourage you to closely observe pastures and hay fields for ergot in the fescue seedheads. In addition, look closely for spotted knapweed on your property.
   For a number of years we’ve reminded you of the concerns over the endophyte and the toxin it produces, ergovaline. Remember, the endophyte in fescue is not visible. It’s in the plant’s tissue and is visible only under a microscope. The microscopic fungus is not toxic itself but the toxin it producers is the culprit.
   Ergot is another fungus but it’s easily visible. Pay attention to your fescue seedheads for the hard black, seed like item that grows on the plant where a seed normally develops. Ergot is often compared to looking like mouse droppings. Ergot also produces several alkaloids that give the same “fescue-like” symptoms as ergovaline. Dr. Tim Evans with the veterinary diagnostic lab at the University of Missouri likes to refer to ergot as the endophyte on steroids. That means ergot produces a lot of toxic alkaloids.
   Removing seedheads helps with both ergot and the conventional toxic endophyte. Clipping should be done early. Mid-May should be a target date.
   We get several questions about chemical seedhead control. If done at the appropriate time, it should be effective on both fungal problems. The use of chemical seedhead control is not a new practice. I helped in the mid-80’s with three years of field trials and at the Southwest Center. There was a lot of variability in plant and animal response. When it worked, the results were amazing.
   The seedhead suppression was very impressive and the cattle showed more heat tolerance, shed off nicely and didn’t pond-stand as much. The product was never widely promoted by the 3-M company. Apparently they didn’t feel the fescue market was lucrative enough.
   Now to spotted knapweed. It’s still out there and spreading at some locations. Knapweed is relatively easy to control with a variety of herbicides. There are several times during the year when the herbicides are effective, fall, early spring and in the bud-bloom stage. I see most of the knapweed along main roads and railroads. I don’t see it spreading into fields and pastures much so let’s keep it that way by observing it closely this time of year. I usually see it blooming around June 10 but it appears to be earlier this year like everything else. ∆
   ELDON COLE: Extension Livestock Specialist, University of Missouri
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