Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #244539

Title: Defoliation Management Effects on Meadow Fescue, Tall Fescue, and Orchardgrass

item Brink, Geoffrey
item Casler, Michael
item Martin, Neal

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/2/2009
Publication Date: 1/3/2010
Citation: Brink, G.E., Casler, M.D., Martin, N.P. 2010. Meadow Fescue, Tall Fescue, and Orchardgrass Response to Defoliation Management. Agronomy Journal. 102:667-674.

Interpretive Summary: The cool-season grasses orchardgrass and tall fescue are the primary grass species found in many pastures used for livestock production. Meadow fescue, however, has been shown to have equal or greater acceptance by grazing livestock and represents an improved alternative to traditionally-used grasses. Our study compared the productivity, nutritive value, and longevity of meadow fescue varieties differing in genetic background with orchardgrass and tall fescue when harvested in a manner similar to hay production and rotational grazing. We found that when harvested for hay, orchardgrass and tall fescue provided more yield than meadow fescue; but when harvested in a manner similar to rotational grazing (more frequently), productivity among the grasses was often similar. Furthermore, meadow fescue herbage always had higher nutritive value than that of the other grasses. Because meadow fescue has only slightly lower yield but higher nutritional quality than either orchardgrass or tall fescue, producers should consider it as a viable alternative for pastures.

Technical Abstract: Meadow fescue [Schedonorus pratensis (Huds.) P. Beauv.] represents an alternative to temperate grasses typically used in forage-livestock systems. Our objective was to compare the productivity, nutritive value, and persistence of diverse meadow fescue cultivars with that of tall fescue [Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.] and orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) when harvested by regimes representing lax and severe hay production and rotational grazing. ‘Azov’ (plant introduction strain cross), ‘Bartura’ (commercial cultivar), and ‘Hidden Valley’ (naturalized population) meadow fescue, ‘Barolex’ tall fescue, and ‘Bronc’ orchardgrass were harvested infrequently (40- to 65-d harvest interval) or frequently (when plants reached 25-cm sward height) to a 5- or 10-cm residual sward height (RSH) at two Wisconsin locations in 2 yr. Annual dry matter (DM) yield of all grasses was greater when harvested infrequently (7.46 Mg ha-1) than frequently (5.92 Mg ha-1), or at 5 cm (7.52 Mg ha-1) than 10-cm RSH (5.88 Mg ha-1). Tall fescue and orchardgrass annual yield was greater than that of all meadow fescues when harvested infrequently, but differences among grasses were relatively small when harvested frequently, particularly at 10-cm RSH. Neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) of meadow fescue was 30 to 80 g kg-1 neutral detergent fiber (NDF) greater than that of tall fescue or orchardgrass at every harvest in all environments. Meadow fescue cultivars were less persistent than tall fescue after 2 yr, but were usually equal to or more persistent than orchardgrass. Meadow fescue should be considered as a viable alternative to tall fescue and orchardgrass in temperate, managed intensive rotational grazing systems due to its comparable yield and superior digestibility.