In Spite Of Spring Weather, Fescue Pastures Grow Early

   Early spring weather worked in favor of farmers growing fescue grass for grazing and haying. But dry weather may undo early growth progress.
   Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, said early warm weather sped growth in fescue in spite of a dry spell.
   In a report on a weekly MU teleconference, Roberts said fescue in mid-April shows developing seed heads. That means the grass should be clipped by harvesting. That can be by grazing cattle or by mowing for hay.
   “Usually, we don’t see this until May 1,” Roberts said. “Farmers should step up their harvesting schedules.
   “Early growth I've seen in the Ozarks is very thick,” he told regional agronomists on the phone call.
   Early thick growth means farmers may get two early cuttings of hay, Roberts said. If predicted rains arrive, the second growth should arrive early.
In his annual appeal, Roberts urged producers to harvest fescue before seed heads set. Fescue is in boot stage, which means grass is about to open seed heads.
   Nutrient quality drops quickly in forage once seeds form. The plant moves nutrients from leaves into the seeds. That hurts forage quality.
   With the fungus-infected Kentucky 31 fescue, seed heads contain high levels of toxin. The toxin cuts production in grazing livestock in many ways.
   Grazing or haymaking before seed set provides the best grass of the year. Roberts says it’s important to cut fescue early. That does two things: Forage is high quality. And regrowth won’t make seed. That boosts quality also.
   Early cutting allows the second growth to extend into the "summer slump" of the dry months of July and August.
   “Early management makes a difference,” Roberts said. “When the plants set seed, grass basically stops growing. The plant has accomplished what it must do-make seed.”
   Once seeds set, a chemical signal tells the plant to stop trying. However, if seeds are clipped the plant keeps growing.
   The best way to manage pastures is with rotational grazing through paddocks dividing the larger pasture.
   Early in the teleconference, MU Extension climatologist Pat Guinan said more precipitation can be expected through the end of April.
   The first four months of the year were among the driest on record. Moderate drought already covers west-central Missouri. The rest of the state is entering drought.
   Guinan gave no outlook for summer grass-growing season. But if drought returns, any extra hay made now will have extra value.
   Roberts urged grass farmers to check pastures to make the most of lush growth.
   Often early fescue growth is thin, Roberts said. Usually when seed boots are clipped, there’s not enough hay to rake and bale. This year is different.
   MU Extension regional agronomists have the latest information on forage and crop-growing practices. They share information by teleconferences. ∆
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