Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 4 – Why I’m Keeping My KY 31

Should we get rid of KY 31 endophyte-infected tall fescue? Greg Judy has said "No" throughout this 4 part series. Here's his final argument, including all the reasons he has decided to keep his fescue. (Read the rest of the series here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) I covered all the negatives of Kentucky-31 endophyte-infected tall fescue earlier, now I will cover the positive aspects of this dirty endophyte-infected tall fescue. First and foremost it is one strong tough grass that is all most impossible to kill. 1. It is here to stay, hate it or not, we have it. I refuse to spend the rest of my life trying to kill something that eventually comes back. 2. The infected fescue is the only plant that I know of that you can trample to death in wet conditions and it comes

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9 thoughts on “Winter Stockpiled Fescue Trumps Hay Every Time – Part 4 – Why I’m Keeping My KY 31

  1. Greg and all who replied,
    Thanks much for this exchange. Helps us manage our cattle and fescue-mix pastures better.
    Random thoughts from our 12 yrs of selecting cattle for year-round grazing on mostly fescue pastures, culling those few animals who do not thrive, still much to learn:
    —Our animals also prefer pushing through snow for KY-31 over quality hay. Once during a bitter cold snap, I herded them out of a windy north slope with more stockpiled fescue just beyond a wire, and rolled out quality hay on S. slope where just grazed. The lead cows let me know, in no uncertain terms, they wanted back to that N. slope out of sun and into the wind, forget the hay at their feet. I complied, followed and watched with amazement as they lustily pushed through the snow to big mouthfuls of green fescue. Yearling calves, who hadn’t grazed through snow before, had to learn to do this or go hungry that day.
    —Agreed that during summer, KY-31 is last thing my cattle want to eat in the pasture mix; they ask to move on so we comply. During winter, it’s the first they want to eat so we manage for it all winter long. They’ve taught us through observation. Knowing more about seasonal toxic levels, it makes sense. KY-31 their least favorite forage in the summer and ‘go-to’ one in winter.
    —Have heard it said “Push your cows, but don’t be stupid”. I need to be willing to hear when my cattle are pushing back, and act accordingly.
    —Recent, excellent article here (John Marble?) talked about rotational grazing, where more profitable may be the goal of moving every 3-7 days vs diminishing returns of multiple times a day, depending on some situations. I get that; of not being wed to another’s ‘formula’. But in my area of highly variable winter weather, 60F to single digits and back, snow to heavy rains in this ‘fescue belt’: moving every day or two, and checking every day, allows better forage utilization and adequate, quality calories. For us, new stockpiled fescue nearly every day means quality feed every day.
    — But whether I move them or not every day, letting the cattle see me at least once per day, gives them a chance to ‘talk’ back to me. To tell me when I’ve been ‘stupid’ and didn’t give quite enough. Or took a chance and the forage quality/quantity were indeed enough for that day. We’re still working on that “grazer’s eye”, and my kids also give their opinions on how much stockpiled forage to set up for the next day, depending on the weather forecast and disposition of the cows before us.
    —On setting several different polywires at once for stockpile insurance: Yesterday, deer or some critter broke through one strand and drug it into the herd and down the hill. So, agreed on the wisdom of limiting random damage to stockpile, with additional ‘backup’ strands installed where cattle are headed following days. Low-cost insurance; work that would soon be done anyway.
    —At a recent grazing conference, talked with a purveyor of coming genetic tests, to ID which individual animals in a herd most susceptible to KY-31 injury. So afterward, asked when testing might be avail to help manage my herd. He asked what we were doing, our conception rates, etc. Then said if we’re culling appropriately, that might be a better genetic screen than any upcoming test we could pay for. “Why pay me for culling info you can and should be learning anyway, if you’re already managing a herd on fescue?”

    Thanks again, Greg and others in this thread, for helping us explore best uses of the fescue we have, both on land we own and that we lease.

  2. Bill Elkins shared this on the 3rd part of the series. We thought we’d add it here because it’s very helpful and appropriate for this part in the series too.

    Some 15-20 yrs ago Jim Gerrish told me how to deal with numerous breeding failures among my heifers and cows grazing endophyte toxic Ky31 fescue . He told me to just cull them, and keep on grazing the rest as we were. This of course selects FOR the tolerant animals as described in Greg Judy’s column. I have also followed Greg’s advice to graze anything that grows naturally in the pasture.. Avoid expensive attempts, including mowing to supress toxic fescue . Our cows selectively grazed around it in summer and leave it for winter stock-pile, which they love. They’re still eating it this Feb, and in good condition.
    Last summer for first time ever. all our young cows and 3-4 yr old heifers with calves at side bred back and gained up to 2.5# /d.. Thus I am writing to confirm Greg’s recommendation to stick with Ky31 iif your breeding herd has been properly selected. thru years. It does take patience.

    1. Bill,

      Glad to hear your culling over the years is now paying dividends in your cow herd! Your right it does take patience and time. There was an old timer that once said, “You will never have a herd any better than what you cull for”. I think he knew what he was talking about.

      Greg Judy

  3. I’m new to “On Pasture” and new to grazing. I believe the grass in my pasture, which is the floor of an old apple orchard, never grazed as far as I know, consists mainly of fescue-whatever type has taken up residence.
    I tried grazing lambs there last summer. I noticed that they ate every other plant they could find- the dandelions, chicory, plantain, queen anne’s lace, poison ivy, the odd orchard grass clump and sprinking of red clover etc. and did not touch the fescue. They hated it. I might have been able to force them to eat it by not moving them but I thought that would not be good for their growth, nor for pasture growth because they would likely just overgraze the plants they like which was the only palatable forage the pasture produced. So I moved them to the next patch of “weeds” and mowed the fescue. So my question is do cattle like fescue but not sheep? If so, and I want to graze sheep, not cattle, what would you advise?

    1. Emily,

      We have a flock of hair sheep that we move onto a fresh strip of fescue every two days. We have them trained to respect one poly-braid wire that has 9000 volts in it. This constant movement into new strips of fescue works very well. Our sheep are wintered on fescue and whatever brush, twigs, tree leaves, honey locust pods, buck brush berries, acorns and weed residue that is available. It comes back to plant diversity for sheep as well. Even in the winter with our sheep being constantly moved into a new strip, they perform very well on the dominant fescue. It may be the fact the reason they eat it so well is that it is the only green plant in the pasture in the middle of winter. Our sheep are pig fat with no hay or other supplement. With our past history of flock management, the flock has been culled of any animal that does not perform in their environment.

      Greg Judy

      1. Greg,

        Thank you for your reply. If I’m understanding you, the key is to acquire sheep who WILL thrive and perform well on the available fescue.
        I do not yet have my own breeding flock. I bought weaned lambs last year and had to be content with whatever lambs were available in my area. They were aparently not adapted to fescue (or maybe not to grazing at all!). Live and learn.


  4. Tall fescue is the preferred forage in fall/winter over all other cool season grasses we can grow in Wisconsin.

    Wonder if Embark PGR (mefluidide) was ever research for reducing endophyte in tall fescue in summer?

    In the 80’s this was introduced as a pasture treatment to prevent seed head formation, which is where the endophyte concentration is highest.

    Sadly grazers are notoriously cheap and not enough product was sold and now pasture use is off label.

  5. What struck me about this article wasn’t the thoughtful analysis of the value of KY31, but the seamless demonstration of the true nature of managed grazing. During my second reading I noted these points:
    (My paraphrase, here)

    “I decided to unroll some hay…”
    “I decided to roll up the next paddock fence…”
    “I thought they might wander out…”
    “The mob of cows told me…”
    “Expect the unexpected…”
    “Change paddock size to accommodate wet soil…”
    “Monitor residual and adapt…”

    Observe, decide, respond, change, act. This is what a grazing manager does. For me, this article demonstrates just how far some folks have evolved from the early, mathematically-choreographed days of “Rotational grazing”.

    Thanks, Greg.

    1. John,

      Those are all good points that you laid out for management. It seems the more flexible we remain in our operations by daily observations and being willing to adjust, the better things go for the livestock.

      Thanks for your thoughts!


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