Feeding Late Cut Infected Fescue Hay

Chris Penrose, ANR Educator, OSU Extension, Morgan County

This year much of our first cutting hay was made much later than usual. Many of us made a lot of hay that was overmature and loaded with endophyte infected fescue. Will this be a problem with our cattle this winter? Unfortunately, most of the endophyte accumulates in the stem and seed heads, elevating the concentrations in our hay. Are there some things we can do to reduce the effects if we suspect a problem? Fortunately we have a couple things going for us. First, feeding in cold weather will reduce the problems with cattle because one of the results of the endophyte on cattle is elevated body temperatures. Next, in my area of Ohio, it has been an excellent year for clover, which mixed in the sward with infected fescue, will reduce the concentrations of the endophyte in the hay. Finally, I have seen some fescue cut so late, that much of the seed has already dropped to the ground, again reducing the concentrations in the hay.

If we think we could have a problem this winter, the best solution will be mixing in other feed. If you have other hay that is free of infected fescue, mix it in the ration. Grain is also an excellent option to dilute the effects of the endophyte. I will feed up to 1/2% of my cows body weight with corn during the winter to reduce the effects of the endophyte and improve/maintain body condition during late pregnancy. Finally, consider stockpiling fescue for winter grazing. As temperatures cool in the fall and we have freezing temperatures, the sugar content increases, improving palatability. Also, endophyte levels drop. Research conducted at the University of Missouri, indicates that endophyte levels drop with cold weather to a point in January that they will not cause problems. On my farm, I feed cattle hay earlier in the winter and put cattle on stockpiled fescue in the late winter with a little corn and a good mineral ration. They not only improve body condition, but they have a clean, mud free pasture to calve on.

I do not expect late cut infected fescue to be a major problem unless first cut hay is usually made prior to heading out. If you do expect a problem, diluting the effects is a good option.