Not All Fescues Are Equal
Fescue is a word that many are afraid to say. “It’s too coarse.” “Cattle won’t eat it.” “It’s deadly to livestock!” Does this look deadly?
Those who say tall fescue is not palatable is almost always talking about what we call the “old fescues” like Kentucky 31 (cue dramatic music). Ever wonder what the 31 stands for? It is named so because it was discovered in 1931... Like many things in agriculture, grass breeding has come a long way in 88 years! Improved varieties of tall fescue exist and are vastly different from the old type varieties that many fear in their pastures. Improved varieties are soft-leaf fescues and are extremely palatable for grazing. These varieties are also a very long-lived, drought and heat tolerant part of a pasture. There are also hay-type fescues that have a more upright growth that work well for hay use; however, these are less palatable than the soft-leaf types for grazing uses.
Endophyte Toxicity (Alkaloid Toxicity)
Not all fescues have toxic endophytes! What is an endophyte? Endophytes are “organisms that exist in association with plant hosts, in foliage and/or roots” (Tymon and Inglis 1). In the case of tall fescues, the endophyte is a fungus that produces alkaloids. Two different types of alkaloids are produced: Loline (good guy) and Ergovaline (bad guy) Any tall fescues put in a pasture blend for the Midwest by PCS are endophyte free so they will not produce either alkaloid. Tall fescues with beneficial endophytes (such as Baroptima Plus E34) will only produce the Loline (good guy) that improves drought tolerance in Southern regions (Craig 1).
It is important to note that endophytes are only transferred to the seed of a plant that it already occurs in; therefore, there is no way for an endophyte free tall fescue to become endophyte infected or produce the previously mentioned alkaloids.
Don’t overlook this high energy cousin of Tall Fescue! Meadow fescue is a persistent, highly digestible grass. It grows well in cool, wet conditions and has similar growth habits to tall fescue. Meadow fescue will be beat in yield by tall fescue in most areas, but can be higher in digestibility. Meadow Fescue is also endophyte free like PCS tall fescues.
Craig, Paul. "The Fescue Family of Grasses." Penn State Extension, 19 Feb. 2013.
Tymon, Lydia, and Debra Inglis. "What is an Endophyte?" Biodegradable Mulch, Apr. 2016.