Fescue, The Quiet Killer
by Les Blondino
Fescue was introduced into the United States from Europe. Dr. E. N. Fergus of the University of Kentucky first observed tall fescue growing in Menifer County, Kentucky in 1931. Dr. Fergus collected seed and tested it in various Kentucky locations. Eventually fescue was named Kentucky 31, referring to 1931 when Dr. Fergus first observed tall fescue.
Fescue is hardy by nature and highly adaptive to a wide variety of conditions. Heat and drought have little effect on fescue. It also does well in a variety of soil types. Fescue thrives in acidic, poor or rich soil. Fescue is a cure all for erosion and other problems. Since fescue has all these survival qualities, it has been planted in large areas throughout the country. Fescue has been planted on 35 million acres. So, regardless of where you live, you probably have fescue.
Since fescue has all these survival qualities, when introduced to a new area, it relentlessly takes over. Fescue’s root structure and toxicity kills off the native grasses, weeds and other plants that are highly beneficial to rabbits and other wildlife.
The problems with fescue are caused by endophytes. Webster’s Dictionary defines endophytes as any plant that grows within another plant. Endophytes are organisms, fungi and bacteria living in some fescue, not all fescue have endophytes. However, when fescue does have endophytes, a variety of problems arise. Fescue often causes reproduction problems with cattle and other animals that graze it. Cattle grazing on fescue have been known to develop lameness and have lost part of their hooves and tails. This condition is referred to as “Fescue Foot”. Mares grazing tall fescue will sometimes abort or produce still born foals. In addition to this, they often fail to produce an adequate amount of milk. Along with these problems, studies have been conducted for pregnancy rates in cattle on fescue with endophytes and found to have a much lower pregnancy rates. There are a host of other problems, such as, weight gain, decreased milk production, rough half coat and elevated body temperature. An estimated $500 million dollars is lost to the livestock industry yearly from fescue.
Be sure to check out the full article starting on page 32 of our May issue!