Second-cutting fescue makes quality hay when stems, seed heads were cut earlier
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Farmers cutting fescue hay don’t get many second chances to make quality hay. This is a one-in-five year, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.
Cool spring temperatures made for bad fescue hay.
“The growing season was at least two weeks behind schedule,” Roberts said on a weekly teleconference. Lack of sunshine and warmth led to reduced leaf growth.
Before fescue grew enough leaves to make hay, the grass matured. The plants set seed heads. Day length, not temperature or leaf growth, determines maturity.
First-cutting fescue grew more stems than forage.
“The good news is cool weather and rains continue well into June,” Roberts said. Normally, rains taper off and temperatures rise in June. Growth almost stops on cool-season grasses.
“This year, we see some good second-cutting fescue hay,” Roberts said. “Farmers who cut seed heads see excellent regrowth.”
Hay should be cut, dried, baled and stored under plastic or hay shed before the next rain.
“We just need a few days of sunshine,” Roberts said.
High-endophyte hay cut in spring loses about half of the endophyte poison in storage. That improves winter feed.
June rains have hurt quality of second-cutting alfalfa, Roberts said. Alfalfa growers get more chance to make hay, with four or five cuttings a year.
Cool-season grasses take a late growth spurt with the return of fall rains. Grass grown after mid-August can be stockpiled in the field for winter grazing. That provides better feed than hay.
Fescue dominates pastures and hay fields in Missouri. But, the seed stems made of fiber lack nutrients.
There’s a bigger problem with fescue stems and seeds. They contain a fungus that poisons horses and cattle. Endophyte-infected fescue dominates the fescue belt across the southeastern United States.
Cattle eating high-endophyte grass develop problems. The fungus lowers feed intake, cuts daily gains and hurts reproduction.
When high-endophyte hay is fed in winter, cattle can get “fescue foot.” Ergovaline restricts blood flow to body extremities. That lead to lost tail switches, frosted ears and damaged feet.
To cut problems, haymakers try to cut hay before seed heads set. That improves nutrient quality of hay.
Roberts is part of a multi-state alliance working to replace toxic fescue with novel-endophyte fescue. The new fescue improves animal health.
MU Extension state specialists hold weekly teleconferences with regional offices across the state. They provide an early-warning network.
For 100 years, MU Extension has engaged Missourians in relevant programs based on University of Missouri research. The year 2014 marks the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, which formalized the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, a national network whose purpose is to extend university-based knowledge beyond the campus.