Influence of endophyte infection of tall fescue with and without white clover on performance, intake, and bite size in steers during the grazing season and subsequent performance in the feedlot

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Virginia Tech


Experiments were conducted to investigate effects of endophyte (Acremonium coenophialum Morgan-Jones and Gams) infection of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) on grazing cattle and subsequent feedlot performance, serum minerals and prolactin, intake, digestibility, bite size, and biting rate. Grazing animal performance was measured April to October, 1989 and 1990, at two locations in VA. Effects of grazing low (<5%) and high (>70%) endophyte infected tall fescue, with and without white clover (Trifolium repens L.), were studied with yearling steers. At each location, two replicates were used with a stocking rate of .3 ha/steer (116 steers/yr). At the end of grazing, all animals were finished on a high corn silage diet and slaughtered. Daily gains of steers grazing low endophyte-infected pastures were higher (P<.01) than for those grazing high endophyte-infected pastures. Cattle grazing high endophyte-infected tall fescue with clover at Glade Spring gained at the same rate as those grazing the low endophyte-infected tall fescue without clover during Summer, 1989. During 1990, cattle at Glade Spring had higher (P<.05) daily gains than did those at Blackstone.

Rectal temperatures were .5 to 1 °C higher (P<.05) for steers grazing infected pastures by June of each year at both locations. Prolactin concentrations were lower (P<.01) in cattle grazing endophyte-infected fescue within 28 d of initiation of grazing at both locations. Visual evaluation indicated that steers grazing high-endophyte pastures had rough hair coats compared to those grazing low endophyte pastures (P<.01), showing evidence of tall fescue toxicosis. Serum mineral analyses indicated no consistent influence of the endophyte. During feedlot finishing, there were no detrimental effects from previously grazing endophyte-infected tall fescue on animal performance.

Forage DM yield, and CP in 1990, and IVDMD in 1989 and 1990 from Glade Spring were higher (P<.05) compared to Blackstone. Forage from Blackstone was typically higher in NDF, ADF, and lignin compared to Glade Spring. Forage from Glade Spring was higher in Ca, Mg, P, and Cu, compared to Blackstone.

Diet selection, digestibility, biting size, and biting rate were measured with esophageally-fistulated steers grazing low (<5%) and high (>70%) endophyte-infected tall fescue, with and without white clover. Bite size was smaller (P<.05) in July compared to May, corresponding to decreased quantity of forage available. Bite size and biting rate were not affected by endophyte infection or inclusion of clover. In vitro DM digestibility was higher (P<.05) for high endophyte-infected tall fescue in July. Animals consumed a higher percentage of clover than was available in the sward.

Intake and digestibility were estimated using 48 experimental animals and four esophageally-fistulated steers. Chromic oxide sustained-release boluses and forage IVDMD were used to estimate intake. The chromic oxide boluses were determined to be reliable for predicting intake of steers during a 21 d trial involving total fecal collection. Intake was higher (P<.01) in cattle grazing low endophyte-infected tall fescue compared to animals grazing high endophyte-infected fescue.

Twenty-one Angus steers (256 kg) were used to compare the effect of 0 and 40% endophyte-infected tall fescue and orchardgrass hay on DM intake, daily gain, body temperature, serum minerals, and prolactin concentrations during an 8 wk study. Quality of the diets was low, as indicated by low CP (8.1 to 10.3%), and IVDMD (41.3 to 47.1%). Daily DM intake and daily gain were higher (P<.05) for animals consuming the noninfected tall fescue compared to animals fed the other hays. Body temperature and serum prolactin were not affected by diet. These data suggest that other factors, besides endophyte infection, are important in the etiology of tall fescue toxicosis. Some of the decreased performance of steers grazing endophyte-infected tall fescue was related to lower intake. Additional research is needed to evaluate higher levels of clover to possibly ameliorate some of the problems of tall fescue toxicosis.