New endophytic fescues can improve cattle performance and profitability
Ernest Newton Fergus, a University of Kentucky forage specialist in the 1930s and 1940s, did the ranching industry a great service by propagating Kentucky fescue 31, says Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomist at the University of Missouri Extension.
“Fescue in general is palatable with exceptional quality early in growth,” says Schnakenberg. “It tolerates overgrazing and survives drought, disease, insects and cold. Fescue provides a steady supply of fall and winter grazing at very low cost. Seed is readily available and easy to establish .”
But Kentucky fescue 31 has a major drawback: it harbors a toxic endophyte fungus that can affect livestock performance. “K-31 revolutionized the cattle industry in Missouri,” Schnakenberg said. “But in some cases, it may be time to make changes that will bring greater profitability to livestock operations.”
Most agronomists won’t promote the complete replacement of K-31 fescue because it won’t happen, he says. “However, breeders who learn to use it and/or supplement it with other forage options are ahead of the curve in dealing with the downsides.”
New endophytic fescues, which harbor a non-toxic version of the fungus, can dramatically improve animal performance and farm profitability, he says. “Research conducted in Arkansas has found significant results in cow reproduction rates by converting only 25% of a farm to novels associated with strategic management.”
Another good reason to renovate a fescue pasture is when grassy weeds dominate a pasture or paddock. “There are many stands of pasture and hay meadows that were once solid fields of fescue, but no longer come close,” Schnakenberg says. “In most cases, there are no selective herbicides to eliminate or reduce less desirable species in a field. Complete renovation may be the only solution if a purer stand is desired.”
Fescue seeds can remain viable in the soil for at least 12 months, so if you intend to convert an existing stand of K-31 fescue to new endophyte fescue, Schnakenberg strongly recommends taking steps to ensure elimination. full of K-31.
“It is imperative to prevent seeds of the old K-31 crop from being made in the year of establishment,” he says. “Also, it is important to understand that a single application of glyphosate will not completely kill all old K-31 crowns. If K-31 survives in the new novel stand, it may dominate the novel over time, partly because cattle generally prefer to graze the stronger novel than the K-31.”
Schnakenberg recommends taking steps to completely eliminate K-31 crowns and planting at the best time of year. “In most cases, sowing in late summer or early fall is most ideal,” he says. “It’s usually September, unless conditions are too dry. We generally won’t recommend re-seeding in the spring, but preparation should start in the spring.”
The most common preparation method is a “spray-smother-spray” approach which involves killing old fescue in the spring with heavy doses of glyphosate, planting a summer cover/smother crop, and doing a second spray of glyphosate in the fall before new fescue. planting.
“To ensure that no K-31s survive, growers might consider starting the year early by using both a cool-season cover crop during the winter and a warm-season cover crop in winter. summer,” he says. “Milder cool season crops can be cereal rye, triticale, or wheat. Warm season options can be southern grass sorghum, millet, teff, or corn for silage or grain. “
This method is the most expensive and time-consuming approach. Another method is a “spray-wait-spray” approach, Schnakenberg says. “This involves not letting the spring growth of K-31 go to seed, then spraying it with a high rate of glyphosate later in the spring, perhaps even after a spring pasture or haymaking. Instead of planting a smother crop, the field is left fallow for the summer.Then, a few weeks or less before summer/fall planting, apply a second spray of glyphosate.Missouri research has found that this method is also effective in eliminating any resurgence of K-31 in the new stand.
Many will see the price of seed and think it’s just not worth it, he says. “But agricultural economists in Missouri and North Carolina have studied this question closely. They concluded that if you follow the spray-chomp-spray steps, it could take up to five years to get a return on your investment. process by improving animal performance If fields are already in need of renovation and are unproductive, this equates to a gain of about three years If the plan is to convert only up to 25% of the firm in novels, the gain can take about two years.
Growers must consider many factors when deciding if converting to new fescues is worth it. “Decades of research data have shown that fescue endophyte significantly reduces on-farm profits in the beef industry,” says Schnakenberg. “Unfortunately, many growers fail to recognize the silent diversion of profits that occurs because of the endophyte.”
Using a new fescue, combined with other measures, can be a huge benefit to a farm, he says. “There are farms with calf weaning weight data that show major improvements in gain after cattle start grazing new fescues.”
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