Kentucky fescue grass has been fed as both live forage and stored feed to livestock since the early 1800s. Today, however, there are many alternatives to this traditional grass, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. One popular new grass, called Max Q fescue, is taking over as a standard forage component for cows, horses and sheep.
Fescue as a Forage Grass
Fescue grass has been used as a livestock forage for as long as there have been meat and dairy animals on the land. It is a hardy grass that can withstand fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. It grows quickly and has a fast rebound rate after grazing making it an economical feed grass. Fescue also stores well for winter fodder.
Endophytes in Fescue Forage
One of the drawbacks of including fescue in mixed pasture grasses is a fungal component that can be harmful or even fatal to grazing animals if consumed in large enough quantities. Fescue contains naturally-occurring endophytes, which help protect the plants from insects and disease. These endophytes can also cause reproductive and digestive problems in cows, horses and sheep which is why fescue is usually only a small component of a mixed pasture.
Pros and Cons of Kentucky Fescue
Kentucky fescue is a tall fescue that has been standard pasture fare for over 200 years. Its durability and resilience have made it a cost-effective feed. However, Kentucky fescue is susceptible to the endophyte problem and feeding animals too much of it can cause illness and even death. It is often mixed with other grasses, such as ryegrass, and legumes, such as clover, in order to minimize its toxicity.
Pros and Cons of Max Q
Max Q is a new variety of tall fescue that has been developed to avoid the toxicity of heritage fescues. It creates endophytes which are, at the same time, non-toxic to animals while still being beneficial to the grass. This gives Max Q the same hardiness as the Kentucky fescue while allowing grazing animals to grow more quickly and remain healthier. The only real downside to Max Q is the cost as it is often more expensive to purchase than its Kentucky cousin.
Comparing Kentucky Fescue to Max Q
Max Q is superior to Kentucky fescue in its health benefits to livestock. Its slightly higher cost is more than offset in most cases by increased milk and meat production and fewer medications required.