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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Grazing Fescue

Tall Fescue (Festuca Arundinacea) is a cool season grass that was first "discovered" in Kentucky.  The Kentucky 31 cultivar is a variety of that species.  Fescue is like many species, it has its positive and negative aspects.  On the positive side:
  • Toughness.  Fescue can handle many less than ideal conditions.  Drought, traffic, and low fertility.
  • High production.  Feed tonnage is competitive with many if not all cool season grasses.
  • Easy to establish.  Fescue is easy to plant and grow.
  • Good for erosion control. Fescue is resistant to flowing water

On the negative side:
  • Toughness.  Can reduce palitability.
  • Endophytes.  Endophytes are fungi that grow in the fescue and reduce its feed value.
  • Ease of establishment can turn the fescue into something of an invasive species.
  • Fescue is probably the worst habit of all the cool season grasses for wildlife.
  • Low magnesium levels in fescue pastures and induce a fatal disease called grass grass tetany
Because of both the positive and negative aspects of tall fescue, it is a common pasture grass in the south and midwest.  Because it is difficult to control, one of the management strategies is to utilize to the best advantage you can.  This August 2013 Prairie Farmer Article gives a number of good tips. 

One of the positive aspects of tall fescue I have not mentioned is winter grazing.  Fescue can be allowed to grow to its full height in the fall by deferring grazing.  The Fescue becomes a standing hay crop that the cattle harvest themselves.  The toughness helps it to hold up under traffic.  And some really good news about winter grazing of fescue is that the cold weather improve feed value. 

Jesse Bussard, wrote her Master's thesis on tall fescue include a summary on her blog.  This part 1Part 2.  Part 3. And Part 4.  If you are using fescue, you should read what Jesse has learned. 

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