Researchers compile text on forage toxins

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 7, 2005
by WLJ
There’s very little chance it will leapfrog “The Da Vinci Code” on any bestseller lists, but a new book compiled and edited by two University of Missouri professors might just gain a devoted cult following.
Agronomist Craig Roberts and animal scientist Don Spiers, along with Chuck West of the University of Arkansas, co-edited “Neophytodium in Cool-Season Grasses” (2005 Blackwell Publishing).
The less-than-catchy title belies the significance of the work, which addresses every aspect of naturally occurring toxins in pasture grasses’ a huge problem for livestock producers in Missouri and around the world.
“Neophytodium” is the Latin word for the fungus also called the endophyte—that occurs in tall fescue grass. Although the endophyte makes tall fescue more resistant to drought and other stresses, the most common strain produces toxins that sicken grazing animals. One of the less obvious symptoms is a dramatic decline in the animal’s weight gain—and the producer’s profits.
“It’s been estimated that in the United States, the annual loss to cattle producers alone is $600 million,” Spiers said. “The magnitude of the fescue toxicosis problem is huge. It’s very important to have the latest information on how to address the problem, and this book represents all the authors world-wide who are doing the top work.”
He said animal scientists at MU and other institutions are examining genetic markers in grazing animals. “Can we identify animals that are sensitive, remove them and have only those animals that are resistant? Those are the sorts of things we’re looking at.”
“Basically, this is an international book,” Roberts said. “It includes contributions from just about every kind of agricultural scientist you can imagine: veterinary toxicology, molecular biology entomology plant pathology, biochemistry—and of course agronomy and animal science. These are all different disciplines, but in here they’re all dealing with toxicology.”
Roberts said the book contains “a wide range from basic science to practical applications,” starting with the molecular biology of the endophyte and concluding with “straight practical application: what happens in the field.”
Although producers might find the information useful, he said, “It’s intended mostly for educators, researchers and decision-makers in the forage and livestock industry. All graduate students in forage and livestock, veterinary sciences and animal sciences would benefit from this book. They need the straight scoop on this.”
A definitive text is long overdue, Roberts said. “With all the phony home remedies, this book will serve as a myth-buster.” The book includes a list of 97 alleged remedies for fescue toxicosis, all recorded by Eldon Cole, MU Extension livestock specialist in Lawrence County. The suggestions are often contradictory and sometimes ridiculous. For example: “Chase sore-footed animals with pickup, horse, dog or four-wheeler to stimulate circulation.”
Toxicosis has been a problem in Missouri since the 1940s, when farmers began planting their pastures in tall fescue. “They’ve grown to just accept it as a problem they have to live with, so they take that loss,” Spiers said. “But in this day and time, efficiency is the name of the game, so it’s important they do everything they can to manage this problem.”
Roberts predicted that “Neophytodium in Cool-Season Grasses” will have an impact that outstrips its sales figures. “This book will influence agricultural policy,” he said. “Right now, it’s the authoritative book on the subject, and it addresses economics, agriculture, commerce and even ethics.”
Spiers agreed. “There is not other book out there as up-to-date as this one is, that has brought all this information together.”
For more information or to order a copy of the book, log onto and insert the following number in the search section (0813801893). — WLJ