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How to Grow Forage Fescue | Guide to Growing Forage Fescue

 
How to Grow Forage Fescue | Guide to Growing Forage Fescue  

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Tall fescue is commonly cultivated for hay and grazing, and is suitable for feed for a wide array of animals including sheep, cattle and others. As a forage, it is best used as a fall and winter grazing grass with other forage crops to complement the relatively weak nutritional profile of tall fescue. Relative to other grasses, fescue is more tolerant of drought, moderate to heavy traffic, and other less than ideal growing conditions. As always, consult an animal feed expert, veterinarian, or other qualified professional before initiating any feeding regime.

 
   
 

Seed

10-25 days

5 years

Deep,slightly-acidic, moist soil

Part shade to full sun

For hay, thin to 12-18" or less

Cattle, sheep, others

50-60

Growing Guide
GROWING NOTES

As fescue prefers plenty of moisture, it is best suited for cool season grazing. Even so, it is hardy and adaptable to a relatively wide range of growing conditions. It is best grown in stands with legumes such as clover to provide more balance nutrition for grazing livestock, and to promote.

 

When choosing a site for fescue, keep in mind the preference of fescue for cool, moist conditions. Paddocks or pastures in proximity to ponds or streams will provide a more ideal location. Additionally, fescue is more tolerant of acidic soils than most other grasses, and thrive with a pH as low as 5.5 or lower. Ideal results are obtained with pH 6.0-7.0; apply lime (limestone) as needed to raise pH. Fescue is very durable, and can withstand a good amount of foot traffic from humans and animals, and will also recover quickly after heavy machinery.

 

Fescue may not be an ideal choice for warm season grazing. Animals often find it unpalatable from mid-summer through early fall, possibly due to the presence of endophytes,symbiotic fungi which adversely affect the taste, nutritional content, and possibly safety of fescue grass. Such endophytes remain dormant in the lower parts of the plant during cool seasons, rendering the aerial blades of grass suitable for grazing.

 

As always, consult an animal feed expert, veterinarian, or other qualified professional before initiating any feeding regime.

 

The ideal time to sow fescue is during the cooler periods at the beginning and end of the growing cycle. Fescue sown in early spring can often be harvested later in spring. If sowing later in the growing season, late summer or early fall will be more conducive to growth. Avoid sowing in mid summer.

 

When sowing, be careful not to sow seeds too deeply beneath the surface of the soil Approximately ¼" should be ideal, band seeding with a balanced organic fertilizer. Potassium rich potash, and nitrogen rich organic fertilizers, are ideal in the absence of concurrent legume planting. If planting with legumes, an initial fertilizing of nitrogen may help while legumes develop their nitrogen-fixing capabilities.


MAINTAINING

Fescue should be fertilized periodically, ideally during the winter or early spring. For fall grazing, fertilize in mid summer. Additionally, manure dropped by feeding animals can help to provide additional nutrition. Topdressing annually with potassium and phosphorus rich fertilizer is recommended.

 

Once established, fescue is hardy and will grow with relative ease. It will show better, more consistent growth during cooler parts of the year.

 

The optimal window for grazing occurs during cooler parts of the growing cycles, once the grass is between 8-12 inches high. Do not allow animals to graze fescue below 3" tall.


 
   
     
   
 

Harvesting Guide

HARVESTING

As a forage crop, fescue is best used in a rotation of other grasses and grazing crops. Additionally fescue should be grown with companion plants, such as legumes red clover and others.

 

Fescue should not be grazed for more than 7 days in a row. Once fescue begins to reach a height of 8 inches or more, it is time to begin grazing. Do wait to long; once it reaches heights of 12 inches or more it quickly becomes unpalatable. Additionally, overgrazing fescue down to 3 inches or less can damage the plant and stifle future growth. Expect 30 days of new growth between grazings. Fescue typically requires 50-60 days of growth (or less) after germination to reach a minimum height of 8 inches for grazing.

 

Although it is tolerant of a wide range of conditions, fescue is better adapted as a cool season crop, and will grow faster in cooler conditions. After spring grazings, it will often be ready for grazing again after 20 days, while summer growth will require approximately 40 days between harvests.


SAVING SEEDS

Grasses form their flowers in spikes called inflorescences. Seed collection is easy. Do not remove the flowering spikes, seeds will develop in the inflorescences. After a period of time you can notice a changing of color in the seed spike, usually it will lighten in color. Mature seeds can be brown to light tan depending on species.

 

It is important to note for collection that seeds will not come readily off the spike if they are immature. For collection grasp your hand around the base of the mature inflorescence and in a clasping motion pull upwards and strip the seeds from the spike. Ripe seeds come off very easily.

 

Allow the seeds to dry in a large open bowl for several days, small seeds will need a few days to dry, larger seeds may require more time, especially in damp weather. It is important to assure that the seeds are thoroughly dry before storing them.

 

Their will be a good amount of chaff with the seeds, it is not always easy to remove. Some seeds, such as pennisetum, have narrow catching/hooking spear-like protrusions attached. Their purpose is part of the dispersal means of the plant. As an animal passes close by and brushes against the inflorescence the seeds are snagged onto the coat and can stay attached for some distance, the seed eventually breaks from its hooks and falls to the ground where it might germinate. Seeds are usually traded with the chaff, for sowing rub both seeds and chaff into the surface of moist soil and press in well.


 
     
 

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