Horn of PLENTY or POISON?
Every year an estimated 700,000 horses graze on more than 35 millionacres of tall fescue in the United States. Fescue grass, due to its deeproot structure and overall hardiness, has long been an ideal pasture grass,except in the south (where it's high moisture requirements and the area'ssandy soil with it's poor water holding capabilities are not compatible).Unfortunately, fescue has some negatives to go with the positives.
The negatives associated with fescue grasses were recognized more thanten years ago, but agricultural and veterinary experts have had limitedsuccess in resolving the problem. The problem is that, despite lookinghealthy, much of the grass has a fungal infection that can have devastatingaffects on the grazing horse. The fungus causes pregnant mares (grazingon affected pastures and often when fed the hay from the fields) not toproduce milk, retain the placenta, have thickening of the placenta andhave delayed and difficult foaling. Another side affect is the photosensitivity(propensity to sunburn) on the fair skinned areas such as the nose andpastern.
In much of the eastern US the widespread use of the grass hasmade cost-effective elimination of affected pastures impossible. The costto the horse breeding industry is said to be in the millions of dollars.Fungus-free fescue seed is available, but according to agricultural expertsit is both expensive and inferior when compared to regular seed.
Although this does not prevent the problem, it is recommended thatthe mare be pulled off pasture at least 3 months prior to foaling. This may lessen the severity of symptoms. Problems will be recognizedearly if the owner has proper breeding records and examines the mare frequentlyas foaling time approaches. A veterinarian can prescribe medicationsto help counteract the affects of the fungus, if symptoms appear. Yourvet can also help prepare for a possible dystocia (abnormal foaling).
Prevention, close observation and proper planning are the ticket tohandling situation.
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