Establishment and first-year management of tall fescue

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Ag Notes

Tall fescue, specifically Kentucky 31, is a cool-season grass that is widely grown throughout Kentucky and the eastern United States, because it is resistant to many unfavorable conditions including drought and is insect resistance. However, the very reason for its resiliency is also its Achilles heel. It contains a harmful fungal endophyte that causes fescue toxicosis in cattle and horses. Affected animals get sick, have reduced weight gains, reproductive problems and other issues.

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In recent years, researchers have learned how to introduce beneficial or novel endophytes into tall fescue varieties. These novel endophytes do not cause fescue toxicosis, but allow a variety to have vigorous growth and improved drought and insect resistance. Six novel endophyte tall fescue varieties are already available on the market. This fall, seed will be available for the University of Kentucky-developed novel endophyte variety Lacefield MaxQ II.

Establishing a pasture with a novel endophyte tall fescue variety is a process that will require you to have a good first-year management plan, especially if you are converting a pasture or hayfield that contains Kentucky 31 tall fescue.

In the spring, you should prevent toxic fescue from producing a seed head. Either graze the pasture every time seedheads emerge or harvest for hay. Some farmers use a combination of grazing and mowing to remove seedheads. Then spray with a high rate of glyphosate to kill the existing fescue. Do a soil test and apply fertilizer and lime according to the results. Drill a summer annual forage into this killed-out sod or cultivate and plant for an even more productive stand.

In the summer, graze animals on the summer annual forage or harvest it for hay or silage.

In the late summer, graze the summer forage closely or harvest it one last time for hay or silage. Apply another application of glyphosate and apply fertilizer as recommended. Some farmers skip the summer annual and just make two to three glyphosate applications four to six weeks apart. Next use a no-till drill to seed your new novel endophyte variety between late August and late September.

During the first winter, don’t graze the seedling pasture, and make sure that you never feed hay on the pasture that contains seedheads of KY-31 tall fescue.

In your second year, you want to apply fertilizer in the spring as recommended, and wait until the plants are eight inches high and firmly anchored to graze it. You can graze for short periods, but make sure you maintain a pasture height between three and eight inches. For further recommendations beyond the first year, contact the Boyle County Extension office.

Jerry Little is the county extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.