This is the second in a four part series. Here’s Part 1.
Our winter stockpile consists mostly of endophyte-infected Kentucky 31 fescue. This fescue is the most cursed despised grass in the Midwest for several reasons.
1. The endophyte restricts the blood flow to the extremities of some animals, causing some cows to lose tail switches, feet, ear tips.
2. Low weight gains, lower reproduction rates.
3. Rough hair coat.
4. Summer slump, plants stop growing in extreme heat.
There are practices that you can use to kill endophyte-infected fescue on your farm and replace it with the novel friendly endophyte fescue. This novel endophyte is more palatable and livestock can perform better on it.
I have no argument that the novel fescue is better forage, but the cost of converting your farm over to the novel is something to consider. You have to spray the present endophyte infected fescue pasture in the spring with Roundup. This is followed by drilling some kind of summer annual crop into the sprayed area. Then you need to re-spray this same area again in the fall to ensure you killed all the fescue plants that survived the spring roundup spraying. Then you drill the new novel endophyte fescue into the killed sod.
There are several things to consider before taking this journey. Let’s cover some of those items here:
1. When you spray Roundup on your pastures and kill the present stand of fescue, what are your cows supposed to eat that year if it doesn’t rain and the summer annual crop fails?
2. What if it doesn’t rain that fall after drilling the new fescue? Now you are really stuck with a failed grass seeding, bare ground, winter coming and no pasture for your livestock. It’s going to be a long winter feeding hay and no spring grass to look forward to.
3. It will take several years to build enough sod under the new plants to hold up livestock in a rainstorm.
4. The cost of the seed for the new improved fescue will average around $100 per acre with no guarantee of getting a stand of grass.
5. Roundup herbicide cost, spraying, fuel, labor, equipment, no grazing, all add up to another $175/acre.
6. Can the new fescue take a beating like the endophyte infected fescue and maintain a stand to support your livestock? If you want to try the new fescue, plant a small plot first on your farm to see if it persists with grazing pressure.
7. You cannot feed any purchased hay onto this new stand of novel fescue if it contains Kentucky 31 fescue.
8. Finally, if you have endophyte-infected fescue on the borders of your pastures, will it come back? If it does, will you have to go through this whole process over again in five years?
Those are a whole bunch of what if’s that may not work out the best for my pocket book at the end of the day. I also feel like every second that my rear end is plopped on a tractor seat, I am losing money. How about approaching the endophyte infected fescue problem from a different angle – one that will keep the money in everyone’s pocket while allowing us to make a living on our farms?
In Part 3, I’ll share what we have undertaken on our farms with management of our cow herd and grazing to prosper on this dirty endophyte-infected fescue.