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Replace Toxic Fescue While Beef Prices Are Up -- MU Extension

Seed costs of nontoxic fescue may seem daunting in troubling times, but good cattle prices now may make it the perfect time to replace that cheaper, toxic fescue.

“Replant pastures when prices rise, or you will be stuck with bad grass when prices drop,” says University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, Craig Roberts. “Beef profits give a window that is not guaranteed to last."

Kentucky-31 fescue contains a toxic fungus that protects the plant but harms animals grazing it. Typically, cattle will try to avoid it, but with drought conditions the past few years, there may not be as many options in their grazing area. 

Toxic fescue contributes to low calf gains, low conception and calving rates, decreased milk production, reduced feed intake (in turn, lowering weights), and often-fatal fescue foot. When all cattle are eating the toxic plant and suffering the same low weights/gains, making it the norm, it can be tough to determine that there's an issue.

Newer novel-endophyte, nontoxic fescues protect themselves but allow cattle to thrive, cutting losses.

“Producers must think ahead to when beef prices fall. That’s when better profit margins from better calves create more value,” says Roberts.

"It's important to learn how to plant the new varieties and manage them,” Roberts says. ”Toxic fescue survived because cows didn’t like it, wouldn’t overgraze it. They love the new ones."

Roberts recommends a year-long process known as "spray-smother-spray" to kill off K-31 before planting. Once planting a new fescue variety, not overgrazing is key. 

Good forage managers used tactics such as diluting fescue with clover, using a feed grain supplement, and rotating grazing paddocks to lower the impact of toxic fescue. Producers can still use these to gain an even bigger return with new fescue plants.

"Manage in the good times to stay in business in the bad times," a cattle producer told Roberts. 

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