Tall Fescue is the most common cool-season forage in the eastern US, and much of it is infected with a toxic fungus that lives in the plant (called the “endophyte”). There are many solutions to the problem of toxic fescue, but none better than killing out old stands and planting an exciting new type of tall fescue called “Novel Endophyte Infected”. There are a number of varieties of good tall fescue that are intentionally infected with a new kind of fungus that helps the plant but does not hurt the animals that eat it. It is one of the most amazing stories in nature!
Old Kentucky-31 tall fescue pastures that were established many decades ago and that are not as productive as they used to be should be aggressively renovated, in most cases by killing the old fescue and replacing it with a Novel Endophyte Variety. This will improve both total forage yield, cattle weight gain, and breeding rates. The renovation can be done either using a summer smother crop (called “spray-smother-spray”) or just following two consecutive glyphosate treatments (called “spray-wait-spray”). Both of these methods have been proven to work through university research and experience, but for either you need to make sure the fescue does not make mature seed that could come back the following year and re-infest the field.
So, if you have seen how fescue hurts your cows this time of year and have a mind to do something about it, start by not letting any of your fields with toxic tall fescue make mature seed this spring. You can graze and then clip it, or take a cutting of hay. Getting rid of the seedheads before they make mature seed will in itself help you reduce the effects of fescue toxicosis, so you will be paid back immediately for doing that. Longer-term, getting those seedheads clipped off before they set mature seed will set you up for a successful renovation.
The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is a national organization focused on enhancing the appropriate adoption of Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue Technology through education, incentives, self-regulation and promotion. To learn more about the Alliance and Tall Fescue Pasture Renovation go to www.grasslandrenewal.org