We must continue to manage and improve our pastures

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I attended the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Meeting this past week in Covington. There were many interesting presentations on managing pasture and hay production. This is a unique conference because it not only presents pasture and hay production from an agronomic perspective related to how to grow pastures and hay as a cropping system, but also presents the utilization of pastures and hay from an animal science perspective. The most prevalent message was that as grains and grain by-products used as cattle feed (such as distiller’s grains from ethanol or corn gluten from corn syrup production) get more expensive the value of forage - based feeds go up as well. While it is difficult and takes a long time to finish livestock on grass alone, the more we can get them to gain from grass and forages prior to feeding grain will result in livestock production that is more profitable to producers and less costly to consumers. The key to keeping costs down is having high quality forages, both pasture and hay when needed, that keep the animals healthy and growing at a good rate of gain.
The other important message is one we have heard for a long time. We need to manage endophyte infected tall fescue (Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue) to improve gains from pastures, particularly in the summer. Ray Smith and several graduate students from UK submitted a paper that explains that the endophyte in Kentucky 31 produces the mycotoxin ergovaline, which helps the plant be drought and disease resistant which makes the plant extremely hardy. Unfortunately, in livestock this toxin causes several problems, the most prevalent being Fescue Toxicosis, which causes an increase in body temperature and a decrease in feed intake. These affected animals also experience decreased milk production and poor reproductive performance. These animals tend to spend their time in the shade or if possible in water trying to keep cool. They gain little weight or in severe cases lose weight, and spring calving cows have a hard time re-breeding for the next year’s calf crop.
The solution to this problem is to dilute the fescue by planting non-toxic species like clovers in with the toxic fescue, or, ideally the entire field of toxic fescue should be killed and re-planted with non-toxic or endophyte free fescue or other species. The argument often made against this is that the alternative varieties are expensive, which they are, but imagine the benefit of calves gaining two pounds per day during the summer compared to a pound or less. It doesn’t take a lot of extra growth from the calves or improved breeding results from the cows to justify the added cost of re-seeding pastures. I would compare this to a grain farmer “saving” money by using old varieties that yield 100 bushels per acre rather than paying more money for the latest varieties that yield 150 bushels or more on the same ground. Kentucky 31 fescue should never be planted on our farms.
Like I said earlier, this is not new information, but it is one of the most important things we can do on our farms. I will keep reminding folks of this until we no longer have fescue toxicity problems on our farms.
The Master Cattlemen Program sign-up has closed. The first class in the 10-part course will be Tuesday Jan. 22, at 6 p.m. at the Nelson County Extension Office in Bardstown. I will not be able to attend due to a previously scheduled extension district board meeting, but I look forward to meeting the participants at the following class on Feb. 5, at the Washington County Extension Office. I would like to thank the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association for their help with this educational program.
The Cattlemen’s Association will hold their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Floral Hall. The speaker will be Don Reynolds who is the 2013 President of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. All members and anyone interested in becoming a member are invited to attend. Please call the Extension Office at (270) 692-2421 if you will be attending so we can get a meal count.
I am in the process of forming an Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Council to help review and guide extension programs in this area according to what Marion County residents need and want. If you have ideas about things we should be working on and want to be on this council please call me at the office. Areas of interest do not have to be farming related, they can be interest in gardening, wildlife or any other topic related to the broad area of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Once formed I anticipate this council to meet quarterly with meetings alternating between daytime and evening so all will have an opportunity to attend at least some of the meetings. The Extension Office exists for the citizens of Marion County and it is my desire to put together programs of interest and benefit to as many people as possible.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.