Are fungal endophytes on your pasture radar? Should they be? 

When it comes to selecting a fescue variety for grazing, one question creates quite the stumbling block. Should I go with an endophyte-enhanced or endophyte-free fescue? This is a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Many fescue varieties host a symbiotic fungal endophyte that, while it is good for the plant and supports a longer plant lifespan, can produce alkaloids, which can be any organic chemical compound involving nitrogen that is toxic to grazing livestock. Although there is not a guarantee that your livestock will be affected by this, there is a risk. Endophyte-free varieties are available, but have traditionally been short-lived, and produce stands that only survive for a few years. Thus, the fescue dilemma.

The majority of tall fescues are infected with fungal endophyte, which is spread through seeds or through the reproduction stages of fescues. Not to worry; if you choose to avoid endophytes, Missouri Southern Seed stocks endophyte-free varieties for you to try. To find out if your pastures have this fungal endophyte, send your samples off to a lab for testing as there are no visible signs that your pasture has been infected by fungal endophyte to the naked eye.

If less than 30% of your pasture is infected with this fungal endophyte, then there is no need to replant the endophyte-free tall fescue. One suggestion would be to plant a variety of red or white clover to help build back any gains lost during the fungal endophyte infection. If your pastures are over 30% infected, it is best to over-seed and plant more endophyte-free fescue to the pasture to protect your livestock, while still benefiting from the longer plant lifespan. 

When it comes time to select your fescue variety, whether endophyte-enhanced or endophyte-free, Missouri Southern Seed has options for you:

  • Estancia Tall Fescue is a medium maturing, high quality, endophyte-enhanced fescue, with standout features including the ability to survive the Missouri heat, excellent disease and insect resistance and protection from heat and drought stress. As for your cattle, you can expect improved calving rates and increased weight gains with this fescue.
  • Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue is an older endophyte-enhanced variety, known for its drought tolerance and persistence. This fescue is adaptable in a wide range of soil types and soil qualities, and is tolerant of excessive traffic and grazing. Kentucky 31 also has enhanced stockpile capability. However, weight gains and calving rates can be affected by this variety. 
  • Cow★Pro Tall Fescue is an endophyte-free fescue with excellent early seedling vigor development. Cow★Pro includes spring and fall growth and is suitable for winter stockpiling. It’s also tolerant in poor soils and is heat and drought tolerant. Cow★Pro is resistant to rust and other foliar diseases, resulting in longer plant life and animal consumption.
  • Cow★Pro II Tall Fescue is the next level of Cow★Pro–providing even greater yields without the worry of toxicity impacting your livestock. Cow★Pro II shows quick vigor development and yields high in a permanent pasture, and features deep roots, medium maturity and heat and drought tolerance. You can expect healthier and more productive cattle with Cow★Pro II.

When it comes to endophytes, it turns out the concern may not be whether your fescue has them or not, but how much. If your pasture is less than 30% infected with endophytes, you shouldn’t have toxicity problems with your cattle. If it’s more than 30% infected… time to look at options for overseeding. Either way, Missouri Southern Seed is here to help, and we’ve got the products you need.

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