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Fescue Foot Predicted to Hit Cow Herds After Cold Fall Weather

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Credit Kristofor Husted / KBIA
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Cattle farmers across Missouri are facing conditions that could allow for heightened fescue foot in cow herds.

Fescue foot is a condition caused by ingesting Kentucky 31 fescue grass that has been poisoned during growth after a drought. Fescue foot can immobilize cows and cause hoof loss.

“We expect it to be worse than in previous years,” MU Extension specialist Craig Roberts said.

When a herd faces fescue foot, it affects more than just a few cows.

“Sometimes a farm can lose 20 percent of its animals; we had that happen last year and the year before,” Roberts said. “Once it hits you, it can hit pretty hard.”

While fescue foot can devastate farmers, consumers are less affected.

“It doesn’t jack the price up of the beef in the grocery store,” Roberts said. “It just hurts the farmer because it can devastate the herd.”

Darrel Franson is a cattle farmer who has seen this devastation firsthand. Of his approximately 75 cows, every year Franson had to euthanize six. A dozen more developed lameness preventing productivity.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Franson said.

But Franson found a solution.

In 2001, he began converting his 137-acre pasture to a different type of grass that wouldn’t develop the toxin.

Not only did Franson put an end to fescue foot among his herd, but he also saw fewer stillbirths and nearly 9 percent more calves sold per cows bred. Franson said his investment was returned in less than 2 years. He noted that this is partly due to his ambitious grazing practices, sometimes moving cows to a new grazing spot twice a day.

Despite the benefits farmers see after reseeding, Franson estimates only 15 percent of pastures in Missouri have been converted away from Kentucky 31 fescue.

Replanting a pasture requires farmers to first kill the grass, and Franson said many are hesitant to do so.

“I remember the trepidation that I felt, the anxiety that I felt when I went out and killed that 10 acres,” he said. “But once I saw how quickly I had a new stand established again, it was easier after that. But that first step was a hard one.”

Roberts said one-day schools held through the Alliance for Grassland Renewal that teach reseeding encourage farmers to replant.

The schools are expanding across the “fescue belt” which spans across the Southeast, according to an MU Extension press release.

MU Extension plans to hold its school on March 18, 2019.

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