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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: The effects of fescue toxicosis on beef cattle productivity
Year: 1995
Author(s): Paterson, J., Forcherio, C., Larson, B., Samford, M., Kerley, M.
Source Title: Journal of Animal Science
Source Type: Journal
pages: 889-898
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Consumption of tall fescue forage infested with the endophytic fungus Acremonium coenophialum can result in a condition termed ’’fescue toxicosis,’’ which is characterized by decreased weight gains, milk production, conception, and serum prolactin and an inability to dissipate body heat by beef cattle. These decreases in productivity have been estimated to cost beef producers more than $600 million annually. The unthrifty appearance of cattle consuming endophyte-infected tall fescue (E+) is most evident during periods of environmental heat or cold stress, suggesting an interaction with environmental conditions. Without temperature stress, cows consumed similar amounts of E+ and endophyte-free tall fescue (E-). But, when temperatures exceeded-32 degrees C, cows that grazed E+ consumed less forage than cows that grazed E-. After removal of E+ from the diet of steers, compensatory growth was observed, indicating no long-term negative effects of E+. A decrease in serum prolactin but apparently little change in other hormones has been measured after consumption of E+. Under periods of heat stress, animals had reduced ability to dissipate body heat, and blood flow to peripheral (rib skin), core-body (duodenum colon), and brain (cerebellum) tissues was decreased. Due to the depressive effects of E+ on prolactin and heat dissipation, dopamine antagonist therapy has been used in an attempt to rectify these changes. Dopamine antagonists have increased serum prolactin but there is limited evidence to suggest an improvement in heat dissipation. Experiments to elucidate the effects of E+ on alpha-1 and -2 adrenergic receptors may also offer insights into developing strategies to overcome the negative effects of E+ consumption. Preliminary results suggest that injections of an alpha-1 adrenergic antagonist (prazosin) in rats fed E+ under 32 degrees C conditions increased DM intake and reduced rectal temperature.