Plan now to stockpile tall fescue for winter feeding. Stockpiled fescue lowers feed input costs and leads to better profits in cattle operations, says University of Missouri Extension livestock field specialist Patrick Davis.
Begin stockpiling tall fescue by resetting fescue pastures to 3 to 4 inches and adding 40 to 50 pounds of nitrogen in early August, Davis says. More nitrogen increases yield, but it also increases the risk of toxicity. If the fescue is a novel endophyte variety, 80 pounds or more is fine. In addition, take these pastures out of the grazing rotation until winter. This allows fall fescue to amass more pounds of dry matter per amount of nitrogen applied compared to a later fall nitrogen application.
Strip grazing the stockpile is a good way to use the forage. It helps maintain the waxy cuticle layer and quality as long as possible throughout the winter feeding season. When strip grazing, use an electric wire to allocate 2 percent to 3 percent of cattle body weight on forage dry matter basis for grazing.
“Wait to graze fescue until later in the winter feeding season when ergovaline levels are lower,” Davis says. Concentration of ergovaline, which is toxic to cattle, drops later in the winter and makes the fescue safer to feed to cattle.
University of Missouri research shows that mid-January to February concentrations of ergovaline likely fall below the toxic threshold level of 200 ppb for cattle. Wait until then to graze the stockpile. Cattle are less likely to show fescue toxicosis symptoms and will have improved health and performance, Davis says.
For more information, contact the local MU Extension agronomy or livestock field specialist. More information also can be found at extension2.missouri.edu/programs/nrcs-mu-grasslands-project.