The Magic Inside

The right endophytes can help your pasture without harming your cattle.

Livestock

The Magic Inside

The right endophytes can help your pasture without harming your cattle.

By admin

Replacing old tall fescue stands—full of toxins that cost the beef industry as much as $200 million per year in Missouri alone—can set up cattlemen for decades of additional profit.

The trick is replacing those grass stands infected with toxic endophyte—fungi inside each plant that raise cattle’s body temperature, cut off blood flow to their extremities, reduce conception rates, and cause abortions—with cultivars infected with novel, or “friendly,” endophytes. The impact is immediate, says Craig Roberts of University of Missouri Extension: stockers add 70 percent more gain and grass dairies see a 30-percent jump in milk production.

Guardian angel. Endophytes act as a guardian angel to each tall fescue plant, protecting it from drought and heat stress, insect damage, and disease. (By making cattle sick, they protect the stand from overgrazing, too.) That’s why seed companies are focusing on novel endophytes in states like Missouri, where drought and pests can kill off endophyte-free plants.

Roberts teaches a “spray, smother, spray” pasture renovation strategy at Grassland Renewal Alliance classes.

In mid-May, spray the old fescue stand with a high rate of a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate. Plant a tall “smother” crop like pearl millet or sorghum sudangrass to expose tillers and newly germinating fescue. In late August, spray again with glyphosate and follow by drilling in 14 pounds of novel-endophyte tall fescue per acre.

Roeland Kapsenberg of DLF in Halsey, Oregon, points out that novel endophytes are living organisms, so new-crop seed is best for viability. Low-temperature/low-humidity storage helps, too.

Roeland Kapsenberg of DLF in Halsey, Oregon, points out that novel endophytes are living organisms, so new-crop seed is best for viability. Low-temperature/low-humidity storage helps, too.

“It’s not quite fool-proof, but it’s pretty close,” Roberts points out.

Just don’t skip the annual cereal in the summer, he warns, and don’t graze below four inches in the first year of the tall fescue stand.

“If we skip the ‘smother’ in our state, we’ve seen 40 percent of the old fescue come back,” he notes.

Payback. Grazing the summer “smother” crop is also the first step in getting a return on your investment.

“The out-of-pocket, everything custom-applied cost is about $200 an acre,” Roberts says. “If you use the Missouri ‘spray, smother, spray’ method, you’re looking at an entire summer where you can partly recover that cost.”

Profit. Top cow-calf operators can recoup renewal costs in 2 to 5 years, and stocker operations can do it in less, Roberts says; seasonal grass dairies can break even in less than a year.

Investing in tall fescue can provide decades of benefits. “We extend the payback numbers out 5 or 7 years and forget there are many more years that are just profit,” Roberts says.

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