Influence of Acremonium coenophialum on Festuca arundinacea growth, chemical composition, digestibility and tall fescue toxicosis

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Infection of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea</> Schreb.) with the endophyte fungus (Acremonium coenophialum, Morgan-Jones and Gam) has been associated with toxicity symptoms observed in cattle. The overall objective was to investigate the influence of endophyte infection on growth and chemical composition of tall fescue and the toxicity of endophyte-infected (EI) tall fescue to cattle. In a greenhouse study with pairs of genetically identical EI and non-infected (NI) ‘Kenhy’ tall fescue clones, concentration of N, Ca, Mg, Al, B, Mn and Zn was higher and K and S was lower in NI, compared to EI tall fescue. Insect resistance was higher in EI, compared to NI. Yield and chemical composition of high and low EI tall fescue were measured at four growth stages (stockpiled, prebloom, bloom and regrowth after harvest at bloom), two sites (Glade Spring and Blackstone) and three rates of N fertilization (0, 40 and 80 kg/ha) in a field study. Tall fescue grown at Glade Spring was higher in N, Mg, Al, Cu, Fe and Mn, compared to Blackstone. Nitrogen fertilization increased N, Mg, Ca, B, Cu, Na, Zn and decreased NDF, ADF, cellulose, P and S concentration in tall fescue. Neutral detergent fiber, ADF, cellulose, lignin, Fe and Na were higher in low, compared to high EI tall fescue. Concentrations of Cu, Na and Zn in stockpiled and Ca, Cu, Na and Zn in bloom-cut tall fescue hay were below dietary requirements for 227-kg steers. A disc meter was also evaluated for use in predicting yield of tall fescue. The meter is useful for non-destructive estimation of yield. Three feeding studies were conducted with steers (6/treatment/year). Diets were orchardgrass/alfalfa hay, spring-cut EI tall fescue hay, spring-cut EI tall fescue silage and fall-cut EI tall fescue silage. Serum prolactin and cholesterol were depressed in steers fed fescue hay and silages, compared to steers fed orchardgrass/alfalfa hay. Differences in mineral composition of hay and silage were reflected in serum minerals in steers. Ergopeptine alkaloids in EI tall fescue may have contributed to the depression of serum prolactin. The spring-cut silage contained the highest concentration of ergopeptine alkaloids, compared to other diets. Steers fed the spring-cut tall fescue silage had the lowest basal and thyrotropin-releasing hormone stimulated prolactin compared to steers fed the other diets.