Superintendent: David Cope Address: 14548 Highway H Mt. Vernon, MO 65712 Phone: 417-466-2148 Website: southwest.cafnr.org SOUTHWEST AND CARGILL PARTNERSHIP LOOKS AT CATTLE PERFORMANCE The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Southwest Research Center partners with numerous companies to conduct a variety of research projects. The Southwest Research Center, located near Mt. Vernon, partnered with Cargill recently on one of the biggest projects ever done at the Center. The study included 180 heifers and several pieces of data were collected throughout the trial. The goal of the study was focused on fighting fescue toxicosis, as well as looking at secondary measurements that could explain differences in cattle performance. To do that, a special mineral, Fescue EMT™ Mineral Defense, was given to the heifers. The mineral was developed to be used in medium or high endophyte-infected pastures. Tall fescue is the most common forage crop used in Missouri because of its resistance to insects, its ability to withstand poor management in the form of overgrazing and low fertility, and it has a long growing season with excellent ability to be stockpiled for late fall and winter grazing. The biggest issue with fescue is that a high percentage of it is infected with a fungal endophyte that is toxic to animals. “Tall fescue grass cover more than 35 million acres in the southeastern United States,” said Anna Taylor, beef nutrition and technology manager with Cargill Animal Nutrition. “Rough estimates for losses from endophyte-infected fescue consumption result in $600 million in annual productivity losses. These losses are attributable to decreases in cattle health, reproductive efficiency and performance.” There are numerous problems associated with endophyte-infected fescue. “Fescue toxicosis causes all sorts of problems in cattle,” said Matt Massie, a senior research specialist at the Southwest Center. “Reduced average daily weight gain, reduced intakes, elevated body temperatures, reduced blood flow through vasoconstriction, reduced milk production and reduced conception rates are among many of the problems that cattle face when they eat infected fescue.” Reduced blood flow can cause even more issues for cattle, including affecting tail switches and causing fescue foot, which can lead to major hoof problems. “As you can see, there’s a whole list of animal production problems associated with endophyte-infected fescue,” Massie said. “A lot of the fescue in this area is infected, too.” Massie said fescue showed up in southwest Missouri in the 1950s. Cargill approached MU to see if a special mineral they developed would help with the fescue toxicosis problem. “The project was a collaborative effort involving a variety of people, not only those at Southwest, but also staff and faculty on campus, companies whose equipment we used, and many representatives from Cargill Animal Nutrition,” Taylor said. “It was also a nice collaboration between the animal sciences and plant sciences departments, allowing for better understanding of the entire beef production system. The project would not have been possible without the help of everyone involved.” The 180 heifers were split into 18 different pastures, with 10 head in each pasture. “This was the biggest experiment, cattle- wise, that I’ve ever been a part of,” Massie said. The Southwest Research Center provided shade and had to keep the mineral in front of the cattle. Each of the 18 pastures was divided in two, and the cattle could be rotated between the pastures as needed. “We took ergovaline samples out in the pasture when the cattle went out and every time a pasture was rotated to another paddock, we would sample it for ergovaline,” Massie said. Ergovaline is found in endophyte- infected fescue and is the main toxic compound associated with fescue toxicosis. The Southwest Research Center tried several different shade options, beginning with putting shade cloth over hay bales. That system worked for a time, until the heifers started trying to eat the hay. Southwest switched to a t-post system with PVC pipe after that, which worked much better. “There isn’t shade in any of these fields due to research projects,” said David Cope, superintendent of the Southwest Research Center. “With our projects, you can’t have shade in one research pasture and not in another. That meant we had to come up with shade.” The experiment had six replications, with two experimental mineral product groups and a control group, which received a normal mineral provided by Cargill. The Southwest Center collected data on pasture growth with an all-terrain vehicle that has ultrasonic sensors mounted on it. That vehicle showed the total grass available in each paddock and how fast the grass was growing each week, giving vital information to Massie as to when to rotate the cattle. Around 60 of the heifers were also fitted with a collar that could be monitored for GPS location. The collar also had a microphone imbedded in it. “The microphone could pick up when the heifers were chewing and ruminating,” Massie said. “There was quite a bit of information available from the collars – and all of that information was transmitted wirelessly to a computer in our main office.” A controlled internal drug release (CIDR) unit was also inserted into each heifer at some point during the study, with a temperature data logger attached to it to monitor body temperatures of each heifer. Blood samples were drawn in the beginning, midpoint and the end to check for prolactin levels. “Prolactin is a hormone that is very much correlated to milk production,” Massie said. “Even though these heifers weren’t lactating, there is a lot of research that shows a correlation between low prolactin levels and toxic fescue.” The heifers were DNA tested for fescue toxicosis tolerance as well. “Through DNA testing, they can find animals that are susceptible to fescue toxicosis and animals that are more tolerant,” Massie said. “That’s extremely valuable information to have.” “Collecting big data can be very beneficial to understanding true responses of cattle to a treatment,” Taylor said. “Having a large dataset to evaluate our pipeline products gave us the confidence to bring a new product to the market – Fescue EMT™ Mineral Defense. The information we gathered at Southwest Research Center definitely helped us bring the mineral to the market.”
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