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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies
tall fescue

Tall Fescue: A love/hate relationship

Posted by Travis Meteer - Grazing

Tall fescue is a grass specie that dominates many pastures in the state of Illinois, especially the southern half. When talking to producers about pasture management, many times management of tall fescue is a major component. There seems to be a love/hate relationship with tall fescue. As producers, we love the early spring yields, the stockpiling potential in the fall, and the hardiness of the grass. However, we hate the effect of the fungal endophyte that resides in tall fescue. The endophyte is responsible for lower gains, poorer conception rates, fescue toxicosis, and fescue foot.

Proper management of tall fescue can greatly decrease the negative effects seen with the grass specie. The extreme in terms of management is to replace fescue with a different forage specie. Not all of us want to totally rid our pastures of tall fescue so there are other options. Interseeding other grasses and legumes can be used as a tool to dilute a stand of tall fescue. This strategy can increase grass diversity and in most cases add nutritive value to your pasture. Because legumes have the bacteria needed to fix nitrogen from the air, they also add value in terms of soil fertility. Another management strategy is to keep the plant vegetative. By managing the plant maturity either with stocking rate or mechanically, we can help reduce negative effects. Ergot alkaloids that cause negative effects in cattle are most concentrated in seed heads. Using rotational grazing systems and clipping pastures are the two most commonly used practices in Illinois.

Be aware if you fail to manage your tall fescue pastures, pregnancy rates can be reduced to as low as 60% in highly infected animals and average daily gain (ADG) of weaned calves can be reduced to only 1lb/day (Browning Jr., Tennesee State U). With the mild winter we experienced this year tall fescue has been headed out for a few weeks. Now may be the perfect time to clip pastures and get rid of those seed heads. Proper management always pays.

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