Fescue Grass Problems
Fescue Grass Problems
Understanding the Problems with Fescue
While in the past fescue was the pasture grass of choice, since the 1970s fescue has become known more as a threat to the health of the animals. The culprit is a fungus known as an endophyte that has been found to harm cattle, and while for the longest time there was no proof that it harmed horses, it has now been shown to cause serious health issues in the equine communities.
What made fescue so popular in the past is simply its hardiness which makes it germinate quickly, grow undauntedly, and survive prolonged grazing as well as droughts and frost. Last but not least, horses love the taste of fescue!
Unfortunately, many of the popular fescue varieties such as the KY 31 are riddled with the endophyte fungus which has been linked to severe problems in brood mares, such as abortion and extended gestation periods, difficulty during foaling, decreased lactation, and also the death of the mares. As a matter of fact, foaling was the time most noted when the fungus’ detrimental effects would show themselves.
Many breeders have reported that even if their foals are born alive, and the placenta has not prematurely separated, or any other birth problems have been avoided, the decreased lactation of the mares has resulted in a reduced immunity that is passed to the foal via the colostrum the mare would normally produce in sufficient quantities, thus requiring breeders to supplement antibodies via infusion. The problems do not end there, either. As the foals begin to graze the affected fescue itself, their growth may well be stunted – this condition, however, can be reversed by feeding sufficient grain on a daily basis.
Fortunately, the threat of the endophyte is now being understood, and as such it has shown to interfere severely with hormones, specifically progesterone and also prolactin. Obviously, concerned horse owners understand that the more infected fescue their horses ingest, the higher the probability of problems. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell if the fescue on your pasture is infected or not. Since the mold grows on the inside of the plant instead of the outside, the naked eye will not be able to ascertain if an infection is present. In order to find out if your fescue is infested, the seeds and roots of plant samples need to be tested in a laboratory. The good news is the fact that it does not affect the soil of your pasture itself or other plants.
If your fescue proves to be infected, you may choose to kill off the fescue in your pasture and reseed with a different kind of grass or fungus free fescue after waiting for a season. Obviously, this is expensive and also time consuming. Other horse owners have decided to remove pregnant mares from pastures with infected fescue at least 90 days prior to foaling. If this is not a viable option, there are hormone stimulating drugs manufactured for mares which can counter the fungus’ effects on them. Your veterinarian will be able to ascertain if your mares are good candidates for this treatment. A third option involves over-seeding with clover which grows well in fescue and which is eaten up eagerly by horses that will then not be as hungry for the fescue.