Understanding Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is an extremely hardy, well-adapted grass species used for hay and pasture in the central and eastern United States and the Pacific Northwest. Although tall fescue has gotten a bad reputation in the horse industry, it is a safe and practical grass for most classes of horses with the exception of broodmares.
A Kentucky field full of tall fescue.
There are many varieties of tall fescue from all over the world, but the variety most commonly found in Central Kentucky and the Eastern U.S. is called Kentucky 31 (KY-31). This variety now occurs naturally across the eastern part of the country based on extensive plantings for erosion control and pasture in the 1940s and '50s. It is usually infected with a microscopic endophytic fungus called Neotyphodium coenophialum, which lives inside the plant. The endophyte produces chemicals (alkaloids) that benefit the plant by making tall fescue tolerant of heavy grazing as well as drought, disease, and insect damage. However, ergovaline, one particular alkaloid produced by infected fescue, has been shown to cause adverse effects in broodmares and possibly stallions including abortion, foaling difficulty, lack of milk production, and reduced ejaculate volume. These issues and related health problems are collectively termed fescue
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