Test Fescue Pastures for Endophyte Toxin

(May 24, 2005) — Livestock producers with fescue pastures should test for endophyte fungus levels during spring, when grass is growing vigorously, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri (MU) Extension forage specialist.

Most fescue is infected with an endophyte that lives in the plant tissue and makes a toxin that reduces growth of animals grazing infected pastures, Roberts says, adding that knowing the infection level can help producers manage grass to reduce lost weight gain and other side effects.

A new method of testing, more accurate than older systems of visual detection, is available at a laboratory in Georgia, he reports. Samples of tillers and plant stems can be tested by Agrinostics Ltd. Co., Watkinsville, Ga. — the only facility in the eastern United States using the test.

The test requires a minimum of 20 tillers collected from all areas of a pasture. To provide a viable sample, gather an extra 20 tillers to submit to the lab. Only stems without seedheads should be gathered. Cut off fescue stems at ground level with a sharp knife or razor blade. Cut off the top of the tiller and all leaves to leave a 4-inch stem.

Store samples in a zipped plastic bag with a damp paper towel enclosed. To keep samples alive, they should be bagged and kept on ice as they are gathered. Send samples by overnight express, with a bag of blue ice in the box. It is best to collect samples early in the week so that samples do not sit in shipment during a weekend.

Complete details on sampling and shipping are available on the company Web site at www.agrinostics.com. Producers should contact (706) 769-2397 or info@agrinostics.com to obtain the shipping address and instructions.

An MU two-day advanced grazing school on endophyte fescue is also available. The course will be Oct. 4-5 at the MU Southwest Center in Mount Vernon, Mo. Call (417) 466-2148 for additional information or to register.

This article was provided by MU Extension and Ag Information.

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