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Tall Fescue (Fetusca arundinacea)

Plant Characteristics: Cool-season perennial with short rhizomes. Auricles are present. Leaves are characterized by a shinny, dark green with prominent veins and rough edges and cutting to the touch.

Establishment: Tall fescue is adapted to the upper part of the state. It is usually tolerant to soils with poor drainage or to drought conditions, but best adapted to clay or loam clay soils. Tall fescue could be established from early September to mid-October at a seeding rate of 15 to 20 lb/ac if drilled or 20 to 25 lb/ac if broadcast. Plant the seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Tall fescue performs well with legumes (white clover, red clover, or alfalfa) and these mixtures decrease the risk of fescue toxicosis. Nematodes could a problem in sandy soils.

Fertilization: Tall fescue is tolerant to acid soils with low fertility and a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. If soil pH is below 5.5, lime should be applied at a rate of 1-2 tons/ac. It responds well to nitrogen fertilization. Soils with a medium to high level of fertility require small amounts of phosphate and potash for establishment. They require only 60 to 70 lbs of phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O) per year for maintenance unless forage is removed as hay. For hay production, double the potash application. Low fertility soils should be fertilized with up to 120 lbs of phosphorous and potassium before or during seed bead preparation. Limit nitrogen fertilizer to applications of 50 to 60 lb N/ac in October and March. High-nitrogen fertilizer applications (greater than 50 pounds each) on endophyte-infected tall fescue may increase the problem of fescue toxicity. Summer applications of nitrogen to fescue that is growing with bermudagrass can accelerate fescue stand loss. If legumes are planted boron applications might be needed.

Grazing/Hay Management: Fescue can be used for pasture or hay production. Most forage production occurs from October to December and from February to May. Yields range from 3 to 5 tons/ac. Endophyte-infected fescue usually have better tolerance to close grazing that the endophyte-free. Endophyte-free should not be overgrazed during the summer. Hay should be cut at the boot stage. Tall fescue is a good forage for stockpiling and utilization during the winter grazing. Tall fescue tolerates continuous stocking but greater forage production and higher animal gains are obtained if management-intensive grazing techniques (rotational grazing) are used. The ideal stage to graze fescue is at a 6- to 8-inch height and remove livestock when fescue is grazed down to 3 inches high. Plan to manage grazing height strictly during the first year. Stockpiling tall fescue grass for use during the late fall and winter is a practice that is much lower in cost than feeding hay, has higher nutrition for the grazing animal and greatly improves the grass state of health. The basic practice is to remove animals from a particular pasture or hay production field in late summer and allow the growth to accumulate until after the cool-season has ended. Controlled grazing through strip grazing is recommended. Start with the first strip closest to the water point, place a single portable electric wire across the area to give a one- or two-day feed supply. The next morning, move the wire forward to the required distance for the next day’s feeding. By doing this, up to 70% utilization of stockpiled forage can be achieved. Without restricted grazing, only 30 to 40% utilization is expected.

Forage Quality: Quality could be affected by the tall fescue endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophiadum) which produces ergo valines and alkaloids. These alkaloids which are toxic reduce blood circulation, cause fever, fat deposits in the abdominal region, rough hair coat and elevated body temperatures. Tall fescue crude protein ranges from 12 to 15% depending on the season, dry matter digestibility ranges from 69 to 74% and TDN is approximately 65%.

Varieties/Cultivars: Endophyte-infected: Kentucky 31; Endophyte-free: Max Q strains.

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