Financial Implications of Non-toxic Endophyte-infected Fescue Pasture: Establishment Costs and Livestock Returns

2005 Annual Report for LNC03-233

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $149,555.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
David Barker
Ohio State University

Financial Implications of Non-toxic Endophyte-infected Fescue Pasture: Establishment Costs and Livestock Returns


A new non-toxic endophyte-tall fescue association (MaxQ tall fescue), free of the toxic alkaloid ergovaline, offers benefits for grazing farms. Max Q fields or plots were established on 11 commercial (7) or research farms (4) during 2002-2004. Detailed measurements of forage production (before and after each grazing) and milk yield were made during the 2005 growing season on 3 dairy farms, each with two tall fescue pasture types. In general, milk yield was similar between pasture types (although the ‘wild’ fescue on one farm had lower milk production). There were large differences in the number of days grazing that were in proportion to the differences in relative forage production between the pastures.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objectives of the project were to:
1)Record costs of novel endophyte fescue establishment using various options.
2)Measure success of establishment each autumn, and relate this to establishment cost .
3)Measure productive performance of livestock (weight change) and dairy cows (milk yield) maintained on non-toxic fescue.
4)Compare expected financial returns from the likely improved productive performance to costs of establishment, using budgeting models (e.g. DAFOSYM) to extrapolate from the individual fields to a farm-scale.
5)Transfer information to project participants and the NCR-SARE farming community, using one meeting at a trial site in each year, a Fact Sheet, a science publication collating project results, and an instruction module on endophyte to inmates in farm training.

Outcomes of the project are expected to be improved farm sustainability resulting from greater profitability from use of novel rather than toxic tall fescue endophytes, and recommendations for cost-effective establishment of novel endophyte fescue.


1) Field inspections

All sites were visited during 2005. a) DeBruin. Detailed pasture and milk yield measurement 1 Apr – 2 Nov 2005. b) Braddock. Advance AR542 over-drilled into bare areas had established. No pasture measurements made. c) Krusling. Good forage production. Milk yield increase of 2-3 lb/cow/day while grazing MaxQ was attributed to broadcast chicory. d) Stoller. Adequate Advance establishment. Detailed pasture measurement and milk yield conducted 1 May – 28 October 2005. e) Mike Putnam. Detailed pasture measurement and milk yield conducted 1 April-6 Nov 2005. e) Mansfield Correctional Institute. no pasture measurement f) The Wilds Conservation Center. 500lb/ac 19-19-19 Apr 13, 2005 to MaxQ. g) OARDC, Wooster. discontinued. h) (Eastern) EORDC, OSU. no measurements 2005. i) OARDC Western. no measurements 2005, k) Jackson Branch. Pasture measurements on variety trial in 2005.

2) Field measurements

a) weather
The precipitation for 2005 was about 6 cm below the average of 67.67 cm for Wooster and 14 cm below the average of 71.32 cm for Washington Courthouse. The overall trend for the season was a rainy spring, followed by an extremely dry summer, especially for the farms in southern Ohio (DeBruin and Putnam).
Precipitation in April of 2005 was above the average in Wooster and Washington Courthouse. In May and June, the precipitation amounts were 60% of average for Wooster and 28% of average for Washington Courthouse. In July, Wooster received near average precipitation, but Washington Courthouse received 44% below average precipitation. In August, the precipitation exceeded the averages for Wooster by 28% and Washington Courthouse by 20%, but was low again in September. In October, the precipitation was near average for both locations.

b) endophyte
2005 Debruins MaxQ, 85% infected (non-toxic)
2005 Debruins E-, 0% endophyte
2005 Putmans Advance, 68% infected (non-toxic)
2005 Stollers Advance, 84% infected (non-toxic)
2005 Stollers ‘wild’, 95% infected

c) soil tests
The pH levels were similar to 2004. Soil nutrient levels were also similar, excepting an increase at DeBruin’s (to 250 ppm K, and 35-70 ppm P for MaxQ and E-), perhaps related to development of those soils with manure.

d) pasture growth
In 2005, the pasture biomass was measured before and after every grazing on 3 farms (DeBruin, Stoller, Putnam), and growth was calculated as the accumulation of biomass between grazing events. The average growth over 6 months of measurements was 3,951 and 3,382 kg DM/ha for the NE+ tall fescue pasture treatment and alternative treatment, respectively. This difference was not significant (P=0.722). The 2005 measurements of growth rate averaged 24.1 vs. 19.72 kg DM/ha/d, respectively, and were also not significantly different (P=0.845). The highest growth and growth rate occurred for Stoller’s Advance with 5,186 kg DM/ha and 33 kg DM/ha/d.

Of note was the higher production from E- tall fescue (Stargrazer) than MaxQ at DeBruin’s, the lower production from festulolium than Advance at Putman’s (due to the very dry summer affecting Festulolium more than tall fescue), and the poor production from ‘wild’ tall fescue (compared to Advance) at Stoller’s

On average for all farms in 2005, mean dry matter intake was 9.2 vs. 8.8 kg DM/head/day for non-toxic and alternate fields respectively. This difference was not significant (P=0.711).

A tall fescue cutting trial at Jackson OH found a total yield during 2005 for MaxQ of 5.43 tons/ac, and for K31 5.24 tons/ac.

e) milk yield
Milk production was measured for 3 farms during 2005. Fields were grazed sequentially during the regular farm rotation and milk production (vat volume) was recorded while cows were grazing the respective fields. The first 1-2 days of grazing were excluded while milk production adjusted to the pasture. As a generalization, milk yield was similar between the 2 endophyte treatments, and was also similar to milk production for the remainder of the farm. Several points are worth mentioning…
i) at DeBruin’s, the grazeable area of E- was greater than just the measurement field since several adjacent pastures had been established at the same. The recorded milk yield on E- (47.4 lb/cow/day for 50 days) included this additional area. MaxQ production averaged 47.5 lb/cow/day.
ii) At Putnam’s, the milk yield was higher on festulolium (averaging 50.0 lb/cow/day) than Advance (46.4 lb/cow/day), however the number of grazing days was less (12 vs 18 days) since the drought of 2005 resulted in no grazing of festulolium Jun-Oct. The Advance was grazed 3 times during this period of reduced forage production.
iii) At Stoller’s, the ‘wild’ field had lower milk production (36.7 vs 41.6 lb/cow/day), and fewer grazing days than the Advance field (16 vs 38 days grazing). This was almost certainly due to the poor forage production from this field, and possibly also the presence of toxic endophyte.

3) Publications

a)“All about grazing” article “Avoid turf in forages” Farm and Dairy #4 30 December 2004, and Amazing Graze Jan 2005
b)HCS News (Apr 2005).
c)Amazing Graze April 2005 Arguing for MaxQ tall fescue? D.J. Barker, R. Little, D. Samples, C.D. Penrose, R.M. Sulc.
e)D. J. Barker, R. M. Sulc, T. L. Bultemeier, J. McCormick, R. Little, C. D. Penrose, D. Samples. 2005. Contrasting toxic-endophyte contamination between endophyte-free and nontoxic-endophyte tall fescue pastures. Crop Sci. 45:616-625.
f)Barker, D.J. and R.M. Sulc. 2005. Forage crops and rangeland. Chapter 20 in Hartmann’s Plant Science: Growth, Development, and Utilization of Cultivated Plants (4th Edition). ed. M. McMahon et al. Publ. Prentice Hall (in press).
g)Hume D.E. and Barker D.J. 2005. Growth and Management of Endophytic Grasses in Pastoral Agriculture. p. 199-225. In C.A. Roberts, C.P. West, and D.E. Spiers (eds.) Neotyphodium in cool-season grasses. Blackwell Publishing, Ames, IA. Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on Neotyphodium/Grass Interactions, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA. 23-26 May 2004.
h)Sulc, R.M., and D.J. Barker. 2005. Forage production. Chapter 7 In Ohio Agronomy Guide, 14th ed. Bull. 472, Ohio State Univ. Extension, Columbus. Pp 89-116.
i)Barker, D. J., and Sulc, R. M. 2005. Pasture and grazing management. Chapter 9 In Ohio Agronomy Guide, 14th ed. Bull. 472, Ohio State Univ. Extension, Columbus. Pp 124-134.
j)Barker, D.J., R. Little, D. Samples, C.D. Penrose, R.M. Sulc, J.S. McCormick, T.L. Bultemeier, M.R. Burgess. 2005. Comparative lamb and heifer growth rates on non-toxic and endophyte-free tall fescue. Proceedings of the American Forage and Grasslands Congress 14: 72-75.

4) Presentations

a. Endophyte. Camelid Neonatal Clinic and Camelid Health, Medicine and Management Course, Columbus OH July 23, 2005 (65)
b. classroom teaching, HCS412, HCS612, Anim Sci 340, PPath612 (80 students)

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Tall fescue is widely used and planted throughout Ohio, occurring on some 2.5 million acres. It is not popular for intensive production (stockers and dairy) due to the occurrence of ergovaline from endophyte, which is toxic to livestock. The non-toxic endophyte tall fescues (MaxQ and Advance) offer the potential for increased animal production from this area – for example, dairy grazers can benefit from the advantageous agronomic characteristics of tall fescue without having to address the toxicity from ergovaline. Two dairy grazers in Ohio have converted to 100% E- and non-toxic tall fescue pastures. In one of these farms, E- tall fescue had greater production, however this may have been from a different variety. On the two other farms, the non-toxic endophyte had superior forage production, but not necessarily milk yield. Information was presented at 2 different meetings, totaling an estimated 150 people in 2004.