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 plant biology!
Old Kentucky-31 tall fescue stands that are not as productive as they used to be should be 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 gains, 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 impacts 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 accomplish this by either grazing and then clipping, or by taking a cutting of hay. Getting rid of the seedheads before they make mature seed will help with fescue toxicosis by itself, and sets you up for a successful renovation.
The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is a national organization focused on enhancing the appropriate adoption of novel endophyte technology through education, incentives, self-regulation and promotion. To learn more about the Alliance and tall fescue pasture renovation, visit our newly designed website here.