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Fescue-free hay?

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    Fescue-free hay?

    Hi. I'm new to breeding (first mare!) and have been studying up and asking vets about best practices. I keep running into "fescue-free" hay as a food source. But in the winter my hay guy notoriously runs out of hay and brings it in from other parts. It's not always clean (stalks) and my horses will leave remnants.

    I feed an alfalfa-timothy mix + a orchard-timothy mix now. I also leave round bales in the fields each winter. Is there a way I can ensure fescue-free hay? Unfortunately I can't store a year's worth at this time.

    Also, I just learned that they may be susceptible to fescue in the first three months. Ack!
    "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

    #2
    It's expensive, but you can buy straight alfalfa that is completely fescue free. Depending on your local growers, you might find some round up ready alfalfa (I know, GMO) that will be 100% free of anything but alfalfa.

    Western alfalfa is also very pure and unlikely to have fescue. But also quite expensive due to trucking. But for one mare and a very important foal, it maybe worth it to you.

    FWIW, all my horses get straight alfalfa. My grain takes into account the added Calcium, and is a bit higher in Phosphorus to balance. It doesn't make them crazy. And my TBs maintain good weight with it (feed less grain). High protein & Calcium is great for broodmares, especially when lactating.
    A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.
    ? Albert Einstein

    ~AJ~

    Comment

      Original Poster

      #3
      Thank you. I'll investigate if I can even find it. We've had trouble finding alfalfa-timothy. I'm in NOVA outside DC if anyone has a suggested source.

      Years ago in a different part of the country my horses were on straight alfalfa. No issues. I love it!
      "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

      Comment


        #4
        I fed Teff hay this last year, and growers are slowly starting to grow more in Virginia.

        Comment


          #5
          Fescue is pretty hard to get rid of in the eastern states unless it is a new stand of orchard grass or timothy. I don't know if it is as prevalent in Canadian hay. I have been buying western hay and I have never had fescue in it. I don't have pregnant mares - my horses just don't like fescue and won't eat hay that has fescue in it. I have gotten orchard grass, timothy and brome hay ( and a mix of the three) with no fescue that came from out west. I don't know if it doesn't grow out there or if the hay producers do something to get rid of it. So you can get grass , alfalfa/grass mix, or straight alfalfa with no fescue. You might have to get it from a feed store and it will be pricier than local hay but for three months that should be do-able. I would imagine in your area you should be able to find some.

          Comment

            Original Poster

            #6
            Have you all heard of avoiding fescue in the first 3 months as well as the last 3? That's what I was just told.
            "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by Tiramit View Post
              Have you all heard of avoiding fescue in the first 3 months as well as the last 3? That's what I was just told.

              I did my thesis work in equine fescue toxicosis, and I'm not familiar with any research that would support this recommendation. In cattle, early embryonic loss can be a problem, as can reduced fertility in bulls. But, to my knowledge, there's not much evidence of this being a significant issue in horses. Even if it is/were a problem, the period of concern would be the first ~30 days or so, not the first three months. Did the person making this claim give you any evidence/reasoning for their belief?

              Comment

                Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by Montanas_Girl View Post


                I did my thesis work in equine fescue toxicosis, and I'm not familiar with any research that would support this recommendation. In cattle, early embryonic loss can be a problem, as can reduced fertility in bulls. But, to my knowledge, there's not much evidence of this being a significant issue in horses. Even if it is/were a problem, the period of concern would be the first ~30 days or so, not the first three months. Did the person making this claim give you any evidence/reasoning for their belief?
                I was able to speak with the reproductive vet directly and he confirmed it is within the first 30 days. The person who gave me the 90 day window works at his practice and was being overly cautious in her recommendation. According to the vet, the first 30 are like the last 30 in that they are high alert, no-fescue periods with extra time added on for "just in case" security. He said high toxin buildup could lead to embryonic loss. Sorry, he did not give me data or any references, otherwise I'd be happy to share.
                "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by Tiramit View Post
                  According to the vet, the first 30 are like the last 30 in that they are high alert, no-fescue periods with extra time added on for "just in case" security. He said high toxin buildup could lead to embryonic loss.
                  Okay, that's more logical, though overly cautious in my opinion (as a nutritionist, NOT a vet, for the record). Early embryonic loss can be an issue in fescue toxicosis, though it isn't nearly as common as near-term issues. One important clarification is that ergot alkaloids don't "build up" in the body. They can be found in all parts of affected plants, but they are most concentrated in the seedhead. This means that good pasture management (mowing/rotational grazing) and cutting hay before the grass matures/goes to seed will significantly reduce the amount of ergovaline in the forage. Also, there is a dilution effect when fescue is not the sole component in the animal's diet (additional forage species - as in mixed hay or pasture - plus whatever concentrate the mare gets); in cattle production, the advice is "dilution is the solution to pollution" when it comes to fescue toxicosis, because fescue eradication is just not realistic in the Southeast for most producers. So don't worry that a tiny bit of fescue in an otherwise excellent hay or pasture is going to dramatically reduce fertility in your broodmares.

                  Hopefully that puts your mind at ease a bit!

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Hopefully this doesn't show up as a double-post. I tried to edit my initial reply, and the "spam" glitch flagged it. So trying again...

                    Originally posted by Tiramit View Post
                    According to the vet, the first 30 are like the last 30 in that they are high alert, no-fescue periods with extra time added on for "just in case" security. He said high toxin buildup could lead to embryonic loss.
                    Okay, that's more logical, though overly cautious in my opinion (as a nutritionist, NOT a vet, for the record). Early embryonic loss can be an issue in fescue toxicosis, though it isn't nearly as common as near-term issues. One important clarification is that ergot alkaloids don't "build up" in the body. They can be found in all parts of affected plants, but they are most concentrated in the seedhead. This means that good pasture management (mowing/rotational grazing) and cutting hay before the grass matures/goes to seed will significantly reduce the amount of ergovaline in the forage. Also, there is a dilution effect when fescue is not the sole component in the animal's diet (additional forage species - as in mixed hay or pasture - plus whatever concentrate the mare gets); in cattle production, the advice is "dilution is the solution to pollution" when it comes to fescue toxicosis, because fescue eradication is just not realistic in the Southeast for most producers. So don't worry that a tiny bit of fescue in an otherwise excellent hay or pasture is going to dramatically reduce fertility in your broodmares.

                    Hopefully that puts your mind at ease a bit!

                    Comment

                      Original Poster

                      #11
                      Thank you so much for this explanation. It does help put my mind at ease!
                      "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

                      Comment


                        #12
                        I'm on the other side of DC in MD. I've been able to find a number of alfalfa producers in SoMD and also up in PA. You'll have to get on it quick to buy because the local supplies typically run out quick and then you're forced to buy the western stuff for $$$$$. If you're on FB there are a number of Southern Maryland Horse/Farm groups that post info. If you have the room/equipment, the producer I use does the giant 800-1000 lb bales. At $110 each they are the cheapest local source I've found. You can also find the squares (40lbs) for between $7.50 - $10 quite easily.
                        - Therese

                        "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." - Douglas Adams

                        Comment

                          Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Therese View Post
                          I'm on the other side of DC in MD. I've been able to find a number of alfalfa producers in SoMD and also up in PA. You'll have to get on it quick to buy because the local supplies typically run out quick and then you're forced to buy the western stuff for $$$$$. If you're on FB there are a number of Southern Maryland Horse/Farm groups that post info. If you have the room/equipment, the producer I use does the giant 800-1000 lb bales. At $110 each they are the cheapest local source I've found. You can also find the squares (40lbs) for between $7.50 - $10 quite easily.
                          Thank you for the tip! I'll be following up on this.
                          "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

                          Comment


                            #14
                            You can easily have hay tested for the endophyte that infected fescue carries. If I buy hay from a source I’m not familiar with, I always have it tested, just to be on the safe side.
                            Expecting 2020 foals by Cornet Obolensky, Glasgow van't Merelsnest, Kannan, Untouchable 27, Clintord, Nixon van't Meulenhof, Zapatero and Label d'Amour!

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