The Effect of Three Fescue Types and Lakota Prairie Grass on Copper Status, Dry Matter Intake, and Alkaloid Appearance of Beef Steers

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Virginia Tech


Tall fescue [Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort.] is an important forage crop in the United States and covers over 14 million ha. The presence of Neotyphodium coenophialum, an endophytic fungus in tall fescue, is associated with several disorders in grazing livestock, but also increased persistence of tall fescue. These disorders, commonly called fescue toxicosis, are responsible for large economic losses in the beef cattle industry each year. This research examined the effect of three fescue types [endophyte-infected Kentucky 31 tall fescue (E+), endophyte-free Kentucky 31 tall fescue (E-), non-ergot alkaloid-producing endophyte Q4508-AR542 tall fescue (Q)], and Lakota prairie grass (L; Bromus catharticus Vahl.) on animal response, alkaloid appearance, DMI, and copper status.

Ergovaline (EV) is the most abundant ergot alkaloid in tall fescue and has previously been considered the causative toxin in fescue toxicosis. More recently it is simpler ergot alkaloids, such as lysergic acid amide (LSA) have been implicated. The objective of the first project was to evaluate animal performance and alkaloid (EV and LSA) appearance in forage and ruminal fluid of steers grazing E-, Q, E+, and L. Average daily gains were greater (P < 0.05) on E-, Q and L compared to E+, and there was a trend (P = 0.11) for gains on E- to be higher than with Q. The seasonal appearance of LSA in ruminal fluid was similar to the seasonal pattern of alkaloids in E+ forage. Ergovaline was not detectable in ruminal fluid of steers grazing E+. Alkaloids were not detectable in forage or ruminal fluid of steers grazing E-, Q, or L. The appearance of LSA in ruminal fluid of steers grazing E+ suggests that this alkaloid may contribute to fescue toxicosis.

Low DMI of animals grazing E+ tall fescue is considered a key factor in decreased animal performance compared to other fescue types. The objective of the second project was to evaluate DMI of steers grazing E-, E+, Q, and L pastures using the alkane technique. Dry matter intake of steers grazing E- was greater (P < 0.001) than Q, E+, and L and DMI of steers grazing Q and E+ were similar (P > 0.10) in 2004. In 2005, DMI did not differ (P = 0.23) among fescue types. These results suggest that decreased DMI effects ADG of steers grazing E+ compared to those grazing E-, and lower DMI of Q suggests that the fescue variety Q4508 may not be the optimal variety for the incorporation on non-ergot alkaloid-producing endophytes.

Reactive oxygen metabolites such as superoxide (O₂⁻) are produced by both endogenous and exogenous sources and an accumulation of these compounds can result in oxidative stress. Copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a Cu-based antioxidant metalloprotein that acts as a defense against oxidative stress by the scavenging of O₂⁻. Neotyphodium-infected tall fescue is typically lower in Cu which could potentially increase oxidative stress of animals grazing this forage. Therefore the objective of the third project was to investigate the Cu and SOD status of steers grazing E-, E+, Q, and L forages. Copper levels of all forages were below the dietary requirement (10μg Cu/g DM) of growing cattle. In 2004, steers grazing E+ exhibited lower (P <0.05) liver Cu compared to E- and Cu intake was lower (P < 0.001). Cu/Zn SOD enzymatic activity and mRNA relative expression did not differ (P > 0.10) among treatments. Copper intake of steers grazing E+ tall fescue was sufficient to maintain, but not replenish liver Cu, and SOD status did not appear compromised by grazing E+ at these Cu levels.



Intake, Beef Steers, Tall Fescue, Copper, Alkaloids