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Living With Endophyte Infected Tall Fescue

By   /  January 4, 2016  /  4 Comments

Here’s a coordinated approach to turn your fescue “scourge” into cost-effective, productive pastures.

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The so-called ‘fescue belt’ has some of the highest beef cow concentrations anywhere in the US.
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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.


  1. Richard Moyer says:

    Thanks for continuing to grant permission to use what works here in the fescue belt. What opened my eyes: fescue this time of year is equal to or better feed quality than most hay produced here, most years. According to Extension Research in Ky and VA, my area. Once we switch to supplementing fescue with hay later this winter, the cows still prefer the fescue over the hay, sometimes even while the fescue is frozen. The cows tell me they like it, too, if I pay attention!

    Worth repeating that if applying N fertilizer do so in late summer, to push the fescue growth cycle which doesn’t seed out, and favor the diluting legumes in spring and summer.

    There are two weeds we clip to help limit seed set, in late spring/early summer. Fescue seedheads just forming may be a third ‘weed’ we clip then. Debatable whether running equipment over pasture pays, but if mowing high can cover lots of ground fast…and can also spot-clip those areas with more problems instead of mowing the whole.

  2. Shayan says:

    Here’s another option that also benefits wildlife while mitigating summer slump and lowering input costs long term:


    • Jim Gerrish says:

      Hey, that’s not living with it, that’s killing it!

      Replacing the infected fescue is certainly another viable option and, in a long term perspective, is generally a profitable strategy. How profitable depends on the landscape and what the cost of making the conversion ends up being.

      Where this strategy most often fails is when the landowner doesn’t change basic grazing management and allows the infected fescue to reestablish and overwhelm the replacement forage.

  3. bill elkins says:

    About 25 yrs ago I contacted Jim Gerrish for advice on this very topic, and his advice was just as he has written here. I followed it pretty religiously with good results, but it takes PATIENCE to breed a herd that is well adapted. Some cattle do not show the obvious signs of fescue toxicity described here .but as Jim pointed out to me, they are sub-fertile, and thus not identified until 2-5 years old. It helps that such animals drop out as breeders, but only at some cost and frustration. By all means take care to select bulls from adapted parents, or at least from a trustworthy rancher, located in the fescue belt,who does not hide behind expensive supplements or other dodges, and keep records that will enable you to identify bloodlines that are fertile despite grazing toxic fescue. There are strategies to minimize intake of toxic seed in spring and summer, including use of herbicide and lots of mowing, but it’s cheaper to follow Greg Judy’s “mob grazing” strategies in which the cattle do the mowing. I was initially afraid of the risk of toxicity, especially for immature animals, but he was right- no problem. I see very young calves eating fescue seed heads without harm. Probably they soon develop temporary aversion that protects against overindulgence ( as described by Provenza), This experience might also foster gradual physiologic adaptation to the alkaloid toxins from ingested endophyte and thus enable the animal to tolerate and better utilize fescue as food. I found that my fat and fertile ‘granny’ cows excreted huge amounts of ergot alkaloid while grazing summer fescue. To prove tolerance in these cows, I sent samples to Agrinostics ltd, Watkinsville, GA to prove presence of these alkaloids in my pasture and ingestion by these cows.

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