How can we convert our pastures from toxic fescue to novel endophyte fescue without chemical burndown?
Answer: Do you currently have reproductive problems, reduced weight gains, or other issues connected to grazing fescue? If not, and your animals have adapted and produce well on fescue, then it likely won’t make much economic sense to spend lots of time and money trying to convert to novel fescue, although a novel fescue will likely increase your average daily gain. I’m assuming you have other forages and legumes in your pastures in order to finish beef. Is it important to you to finish your animals quicker? If so, then establishing novel fescue may be important.A fescue researcher at the University of Arkansas suggested using a summer annual (like pearl millett) to shade out the fescue. You would need to graze it heavily/clip it to stress it and then try to shade it out. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal method, but it might work. Novel fescue isn’t as hardy as infected fescue, so it will be harder to get established, especially in less than perfect establishment conditions. If there is an area of your pasture that is tillable, where establishment is more feasible, then it may be worthwhile to convert that area to novel fescue. Some research in Arkansas showed that cows on 25% novel fescue had the same breeding/reproductive rates as cows on a pure stand of novel fescue. So just some dilution of the infected fescue helped tremendously in regards to reproduction. If your current stand of fescue is causing problems, diluting it with legumes and other forages will have a positive impact. If you are able to establish an area with novel fescue, you could put cows on it to get them bred, or use it with the classes of animals that usually have problems with infected fescue.Converting all of your existing fescue to novel fescue will be a big expense and labor-intensive. It will take some time to get a good stand established and, despite best efforts, sometimes new establishments fail. You have to figure out if it makes sense, financially and labor-wise, to try to convert your pastures. I think if you have some areas that would be more easily converted, then try it there first. You should see some improvements in animal production even by having a portion of the stand in novel fescue.You can learn more about all aspects of pasture by visiting ATTRA’s Livestock and Pasture section at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/livestock/.