Regrowth Fescue Offers Potential Hay Baling Time for Beef Cow Herds

Fescue pasture that has seeded out. ( Dirk Philipp, University of Arkansas )

A long-delayed spring grass-growing season with frequent rains didn't give days for making hay. Regrowth season just ahead holds promise, says a University of Missouri forage specialist.

Craig Roberts looks to the cool-season grass slump ahead to be productive. That depends on weather staying warm and wet but not droughty.

Livestock farmers with grazing herds need better days ahead. After more than two years of bad-hay days, they must refill hay sheds.

Warmer days and nights with rains can make grass regrow, Roberts says. A cold spring didn't give many days with 70-degree average temperatures needed to make grass grow. Too many days had 40-degree lows that cut temperature averages.

As a result, grass grew short leaves and sent up long-stem seed heads.

That didn't provide good grazing, nor did it provide hay.

Long-term-outlook weather maps show warmer weather and nearer normal rainfall. Recent long-range weather maps covering the usual summer slump period don't show droughts ahead.

The unusual recent weather has provided leading topics in the weekly teleconferences among MU Extension agronomists.

Good regrowth depends on having seed heads removed. With seed stems gone, new growth will be in haymaking leaves.

Removing seed stems improves forage quality, Roberts says. Stems contain low energy. Removing seed heads cuts toxins in K-31 fescue, the most used grass in Missouri. However, grass leaves will contain some ergovaline, one of the fescue poisons. The hay will be better.

Regrowth isn't as productive as the spring surge of forage growth. The second growth gives moderate nutrition, as it doesn't contain seed stems. Regrowth provides needed hay for winter feeding.

It won't be high-quality "horse hay," Roberts says. "It meets needs of beef herd owners."

The key to success is having seed heads removed on spring growth.

If frequent rainy days thwart hay-drying days, baleage can store high-moisture forage. Grass too moist to cure for hay can be wrapped in plastic to ensile and store.

Roberts warns that baleage made from toxic fescue will remain toxic. Ensiling preserves toxins. On the other hand, drying and baling toxic fescue hay cuts toxin in half.

The longer toxic fescue is stored in bales, the fewer toxins will remain.

Stockpiling cool-season fescue for grazing into the winter allows saving the bales for late-winter feeding. It is less harmful then.