Want to get rid of toxic fescue? Begin in the hay field

Weaned beef calves can gain more weight on pastures converted to new novel endophyte variety

If trying to eliminate toxic fescue, begin with hay fields first, says University of Missouri beef nutritionist Justin Sexten.

"Toxin-free hay makes establishing toxin-free pastures easier," Sexten said, as seed from infected hay reinfects new pastures.

"You must start somewhere, as you can't replace all old pastures at once. Start with an area with a big impact on the grazing operation," he said.

Related: How to take hay and forage samples in 8 steps

A hayfield can produce much more per acre with a new novel endophyte variety. That allows taking other pastures out of production and maintaining the cow herd at the same time.

Infected Kentucky-31 fescue cannot be fertilized to boost yield, as nitrogen increases toxin output. With a novel endophyte variety, adding fertilizer increases hay with no bad side effects, he advises.

Kentucky-31 fescue has a fungus living between cell walls of the plant. Toxin from the fungus protects the plant but harms grazing animals. New novel endophytes protect the grass without harming livestock.

"In feedback I get, producers see the benefit of toxin-free pastures," Sexten says. "But they often ask how to fit novel endophyte into their system."

Other starting points are pastures used for reproduction or gains in the beef herd. That can be breeding pastures or those for growing replacement heifers. Weaned calves gain more weight on renovated fields.

Related: Nontoxic Fescue Varieties Produce More Beef

"The first acre will be the toughest to convert," Sexten says. "You just have to go at it like planting a crop. This isn't easy as broadcast frost-seeding legumes into grass pastures. But it's not hard to do."


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Planting depth of a quarter inch is critical to success in planting. Adjusting the drill takes time, Sexten says.

"With the price of seed corn, no one goes out, fills the planter boxes and starts planting without adjusting the planter," Sexten says. "The cost is too high not to do it right.

Once you begin renovation, he said additional acres are easier. But the first step is a big one. "It takes figuring out where renovation works best, first," he said.

Pasture conversions will be most rewarding when beef prices are high. In times of low prices, extra gains will make profits possible.

If you're a beef producer in Missouri, consider attending Missouri fescue management schools, held throughout the spring.

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