University of Missouri Extension

M181, New February 2012

Dairy Grazing: Selecting the Right Forage

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.)

Cool-season grasses

Tall fescue is one of the most popular grasses in the United States. It is grown on more than 34 million acres nationwide. Because of its hardiness and adaptability, it is used for several purposes, including silage, hay, pasture and erosion control. Tall fescue is most nutritious in early spring and again in autumn. In addition, tall fescue has a waxy leaf surface that helps it retain its forage quality through winter better than any other perennial grass. As a result, many producers stockpile tall fescue for deferred grazing in winter. There are also many negatives associated with tall fescue. This cool-season grass does not provide a quality habitat for wildlife. In addition, most tall fescue is infected with an endophyte, a fungus that produces compounds that are toxic to cattle. If cattle eat tall fescue that carries the endophyte, they exhibit reduced weight gains and reduced milk yields as well as a number of more serious illnesses such as fescue foot. Although endophyte-free tall fescue does not have this problem, it does not persist as well as tall fescue that contains an endophyte. There are new varieties of tall fescue that contain nontoxic endophytes. These varieties are reported to give good livestock performance and persist longer than endophyte-free types.

Tall fescueTall fescue
 

Yield distributionYield distribution of tall fescue in Missouri.
 

Seed head
Seed head

Collar region
Collar region


M181 Dairy Grazing: Selecting the Right Forage | University of Missouri Extension

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