In the past, I have asked myself this same question…” Why should I or suggest to others to convert to Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue”? As a disclaimer, I am not an Ag Scientist nor extension agent; this is written from the perspective of a producer. Most of us have heard that cattle grazing fescue can be problematic due to the “bad” endophyte. Yes, we see our cattle in the shade most of the day during the summer, or standing in the pond if they have access…but isn’t that “normal”? What about that cow that should have calved 2 months earlier than she did or didn’t calve at all…that “stuff” just happens! Or, those calves look rough, not gaining well and not shedding but we always see that…it is “normal”. These are just a few comments I hear or even have said myself in the past.
During my 32-year career working at one of NCSU’s Ag Research Stations, I had the opportunity to be involved in numerous beef cattle/forage related research projects. Early in my career, I knew toxic fescue could cause issues when grazed by livestock but I did not fully understand the extent of that until we started comparing cattle grazing Novel Endophytes (E-N) to those grazing “dirty” Endophytes (E+). I will never forget one of our first such trials. We had heifers’ side by side (separated only by fence) grazing their respective treatment …E-N or E+. The cattle were weighed often and the E-N group routinely outperformed the E+ cattle, by as much as 1 lb/day during the spring of the year. I know this is not ground breaking information but what was truly eye opening to me was the visual difference in appearance in both groups. In a research setting, you get to see those things and it was drastic in this case. The animals grazing E+ were always seeking shade and were stained in mud because of wallowing around waterer while the E-N cattle were clean and would been seen grazing some in the middle of the day. It was not a surprise that the performance of the E+ cattle was nowhere near that of the E-N cattle. This is just one example and there are others associated with negative effects of “dirty” endophyte including reproduction, etc.
Now that I am retired, I have the opportunity to visit numerous beef cattle farms and I enjoy sharing my experiences with producers. I never suggest that they convert all of their existing fescue acres at once but to consider starting out with a few acres and then they too will start seeing the difference…not only in performance, but visually as well. I realize there is an up-front investment but I am a big believer that it will pay for itself in just a few years. It does take planning but there are numerous success stories. Also, if you have walked your pastures and realize it is time to renovate due to drought, etc., I highly suggest planting novel fescue in these situations. This is the perfect time to improve your operation.
Because of my past experiences working at a research facility, I learned quickly after a few trials that “dirty” endophyte is a big deal and I no longer ask should someone convert, I ask why wouldn’t they convert?
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. For more resources or to learn more about the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, go to http://www.grasslandrenewal.org
Dean Askew is retired from the NCSU Butner Beef Cattle Field Lab and currently works as a local consultant helping farmers in the Oxford, NC area. He represents Producers on the board of the Alliance for Grassland Renewal.