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Replace Toxic Fescue to Replenish Returns

Jordan Anderson Updated: 03/26/2014 @ 5:15pm Digital Content Editor for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture.com

Kentucky 31 fescue (K-31) is known to be toxic to livestock and nearly impossible to eradicate. Replacing this tall fescue with one of five available varieties of nontoxic fescue can boost weight gains for calves – and your returns. 

Studies show that consumption of toxic tall fescue plants including K-31 causes symptoms including: 

  • Rough hair coat
  • Reduced feed intake, lowering weight gains
  • Lower conception rates
  • Decreased milk production
  • Higher internal body temperatures

With cattle prices soaring, there are even more incentives to replenish pastures for greater returns in the long run. Producers are seeing cattle last longer in their herd with better health when they take the necessary steps to plan a pasture renewal. However, it’s not a simple fix.

“Grass management is tricky,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri forage specialist. Each type of forage requires its own management. Novel fescue cannot be managed like the old toxic fescue being eradicated.

A year-long process known as MU’s “spray-smother-spray” plan kills K-31 and reseeds the soil. Once pastures are producing new varieties of grasses, it’s important to not overgraze – it will kill the grass faster than it grew, says Roberts.

Now is the time to be renovating toxic pastures, Roberts states.

Roberts and a team from the Alliance for Grassland Renewal is holding schools this spring to coach farmers on growing for the five nontoxic fescue varieties and managing for persistence in their pastures. (For more information, go to grasslandrenewal.org.) 

Check with university Extension offices for similar classes taking place in your state.

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