CLEMSON – Most livestock producers probably wouldn’t give their animals LSD, but herds grazing on pastures of tall fescue may be consuming compounds similar to those found in the hallucinogenic drug.

Angus cattle

Clemson Extension Service is holding a workshop to teach livestock owners how to protect herds from fescue toxicosis.
Image Credit: Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture

Tall fescue is a popular grass for grazing, hay and erosion control in the eastern United States. Experts believe this grass could be responsible for more than $1 billion per year in livestock production losses.

“Tall fescue is probably the most important cool season perennial forage in the United States,” said John Andrae, Clemson Extension forage specialist. “It can be found on more than 30 million acres in what is called the ‘Tall Fescue Belt.’ It is an incredibly useful grass – lots of fall and winter production, very drought tolerant, very grazing tolerant – so it’s an incredibly useful grass. The problem with this grass is that this grass has a fungus growing in it.

“This fungus produces multiple compounds that may be toxic. One of these compounds is similar to LSD.”

The Tall Fescue Belt ranges from around central Missouri to northern South Carolina and also includes northern Georgia and northern Alabama. Compounds created by the fungus are called “ergot alkaloids.” Animals that consume too much tall fescue containing this fungus can become afflicted with fescue toxicosis, a non-lethal condition that may result in poor growth or low pregnancy rates.

Pasture renovation is one method that could help cut losses.

“Producers need to replant their pastures to reduce the potential for their livestock to fall victims to fescue toxicosis or manage toxic pastures specifically to minimize the severity of toxicosis,” Andrae said.

To help livestock owners learn management techniques and how to replant their pastures with a new nontoxic novel-endophyte fescue, the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and other institutions are teaming up with the Alliance for Grassland Renewal to hold one-day schools for producers in five states in 2018.

The South Carolina school will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 13 at the Clemson Area Transit Building, 511 Westinghouse Road, Pendleton. The cost is $60. Limited seating is available and pre-registration is requested. To register for the South Carolina class, go to:

Lunch, refreshments and materials will be provided. For information, contact John Andrae at 864-656-3504 or

Other schools scheduled are: March 6 in Mount Vernon, Missouri; March 8 in Lexington, Kentucky; March 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina; and March 15 in Raphine, Virginia.

Topics addressed during each school include: fescue toxicosis: symptoms and causes, economics, establishment and first-year management, drill calibration, seed and endophyte testing and transition from toxic to nontoxic fescue. A tour of field plots showing all available nontoxic novel tall fescue varieties and producer panel discussions also are included. Seed companies will be on hand to discuss products and cost share incentives.