When Anderson County, Kentucky livestock producer Mike Wilson bought a 60-acre hayfield in Franklin County, he knew he had a lot of work in front of him.
The previous owners had let people cut hay for nearly 30 years without putting any nutrients back into the ground, which meant the existing grass stand was a mixture of Kentucky 31 tall fescue and weeds.
As he worked on improving the ground’s nutrients, Wilson knew from attending a University of Kentucky grazing school that he also wanted to renovate his field with a novel endophyte tall fescue variety.
Novel endophyte tall fescue varieties differ from traditional Kentucky 31 tall fescue in that they do not contain the endophyte that causes fescue toxicosis, a potentially fatal disease affecting many types of livestock, including cattle and horses.
Wilson sought advice from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment forage extension specialist Ray Smith, Tommy Yankey, Anderson County agriculture and natural resources extension educator; and Glen Aiken, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forage-Animal Production Research Unit, which is housed in the college.
“UK has been a tremendous help for me in providing information and answering questions that I’ve had,” Wilson said. “Glen Aiken was also a big help. This spring, he was talking about pulling some samples from my grass and checking the alkaloid in it to see how it’s performing.”
Wilson also applied and was accepted for a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share program. The program helped offset the costs of renovating the existing grass stand into a novel endophyte tall fescue.
Several years after he planted the novel endophyte variety, he’s seeing positive results.
“I think my cows are doing better on it,” said Wilson, a cow-calf operator. “It seems like they maintain their weight better. They come out of the winter with a body condition score of 5 usually. It seems like they just hold their body condition better through the winter on this hay.”
Novel endophyte tall fescue varieties have been on the market for several years, but have not been adopted by many Kentucky farmers. In the fall, producers will be able to get seed from Lacefield MaxQ II, a UK-developed variety.
To help more farmers learn how they can renovate their tall fescue fields with a novel endophyte variety, UK has partnered with the Alliance for Grassland Renewal to host a Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop March 9 at UK’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Spindletop Research Farm. Wilson is among the producers scheduled to speak at the event.
“Good management is essential, particularly with new varieties like Mike has,” Smith said. “Mike has excellent production. I feel great about a stand like the one he has. Mike has taken the effort to get it established, and he’s going to have it for many more years to come.”
Smith has talked with farmers across Kentucky about the benefits of novel endophyte tall fescue varieties, and Yankey has encouraged other farmers in his county like Buddy Smith to make the switch. Buddy Smith reseeded a field this past fall with a novel endophyte variety and is anxious to see the results.
“Sometimes it’s hard for the farmer to get over the initial cost of the seed, but after they see the grazing and hay benefits and how well the livestock clean up the forage in the winter months, most have had no problem saying it was good investment,” Yankey said. “We think we are seeing increased gains on the novel endophyte fescues. We certainly know that our cattle are maintaining body condition well through the winter months feeding on novel endophyte varieties.”
More information about the Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop is available on the UK forage extension website.