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Title: Tall Fescue Persists and Cattle Perform Well on a Novel-Endophyte Association

item Franzluebbers, Alan

Submitted to: USDA-ARS Research Notes
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/6/2009
Publication Date: 3/6/2009
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J. 2009. Tall Fescue Persists and Cattle Perform Well on a Novel-Endophyte Association. JPC Research Note 14. 2009.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Tall fescue is a widely disseminated grass grown around the world and is considered the most important perennial, cool-season grass in the southeastern USA. Tall fescue withstands grazing pressure by cattle and persists better than other cool-season perennial forages, especially when exposed to the stressful conditions (hot, dry summers; acidic and eroded soils) prevalent in the southeastern USA. Superior persistence of tall fescue is likely related to a mutualistic association with a fungal endophyte (fungus that lives within plants), Neotyphodium coenophialum. The fungus produces various alkaloids (physiologically active, nitrogen-containing organic bases), of which ergot alkaloids (causing blood vessel constrictions) are associated with different toxic symptoms in cattle, sheep, and horses. A novel strain of fungal endophyte that does not produce ergot alkaloids was selected and inserted into ‘Jesup’ tall fescue by researchers at the University of Georgia (Joe Bouton and colleagues, Agronomy Journal 2002, Vol. 94, Pages 567-574). Grass-based cattle producers depending on tall fescue are faced with a choice of tall fescue-endophyte options: poor animal performance and excellent stand persistence with wild-type endophyte, excellent animal performance and poor stand persistence with endophyte-free, or relatively unknown animal performance and stand persistence and substantial cost of pasture establishment with novel-endophyte infection. Yearly average daily gain (1.5 lb/day) and calf weight gain (487 lb/acre) were as good with broiler litter fertilization as with inorganic fertilization, while cost of broiler litter was at least $50/acre/year lower than inorganic fertilizer (more than covering the higher seed cost of novel compared with wild endophyte). Therefore, broiler litter with novel endophyte should be considered a more profitable and sustainable production system, especially considering the broader spectrum of nutrients applied, better animal production, and enhanced stand persistence. These results have important implications for the more than half million farmers in the southeastern USA, as well as the agronomic support system of farm advisors, university extension, and research scientists in the region.