Nontoxic varieties of fescue produce more beef on fewer acres and are available for use.
By: Duane Dailey, University of Missouri Extension
Cattle producers facing fewer grazing acres for herd expansion can boost beef production with better grass.
One answer is more cows on fewer acres, says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri beef nutritionist.
Sexten is part of an Alliance for Grassland Renewal that holds fescue schools across the state.
"How many of you think land taken out of grass for crops will return to grass?" No producer held up a hand at the school held at Columbia. "Pasture land is expensive, or not available," Sexten said.
A main theme of the schools was to plant nontoxic novel-endophyte tall fescue to replace toxic Kentucky 31, the most widely grown grass in Missouri.
Producers saw results of 14 research studies that show calves grazed on novel fescue gained 0.7 pounds more per day on average compared to calves on toxic K-31.
"You can produce more beef on the land you own," Sexten said. Better gains are one of many benefits.
During the cold winter, several producers learned the cost of losing cows to "fescue foot." One farmer lost nine cows out of a herd of 39.
"It's not only the lost cows, but also costs of replacement heifers," Sexten said.
Craig Roberts, MU Extension agronomist, described fescue foot as the most visible of losses from toxic fescue.
The toxin, produced by a fungus growing between cell walls of infected fescue, is a vasoconstrictor. It cuts blood flow to animal extremities. That causes feet, tails and ears to freeze. A cow can survive without an ear or tail, but not without a foot.
Toxin also affects an extremity on bulls, causing sterility. "When you see frost on a bull's scrotum, you have a problem," Sexten said.