“Cool-season grasses are the base of forage operations in the Ozarks area,” said Robert Kallenbach professor and extension specialist for the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri.
Cool-season (C3) grasses are plants that originated from cooler temperate regions and have a C3 system. Whereas warm-season (C4) grasses originate from warmer and tropical climates.
The optimal temperature for growth is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for cool-season plants. Cool-season pastures are more productive in the cooler, more moist spring and fall months.
“Fescue is the most common cool-season grass, pasture or turf,” Kallenbach said. Other types include orchardgrass, timothy, smooth bromegrass, redtop and reed canarygrass.
“However, not all of these grass types are created equal, some are ‘too’ cool-season,” Kallenbach added. “Some prefer to be further north. Tall fescue, orchardgrass and reed canarygrass have the best adaptation in the Ozarks area.”
“Tall fescue is the number one grass. It’s robust, relatively drought-resistant, performs well under grazing,” said Dirk Philipp, assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas. “In some places winter annual grasses such as wheat and rye are planted for grazing, but these are short-lived, while tall fescue is a perennial grass.”
The most common agricultural use for cool-season grasses is grazing, because tall fescue hay is not all that valuable. “Of course, farmers make fescue hay and feed it back to the cattle in winter, but generally tall fescue is not a high-dollar hay crop,” Philipp added. “Winter wheat or rye are also grazed and are used as forage during times of the year when biomass production is low with other grasses such as fescue.”
Kallenbach suggested that reed canarygrass is probably the most drought-tolerant cool-season grass for this area.
Regarding grazing, livestock should be turned in at 8 to 10 inches and removed when grazed to 3 to 4 inches for optimal forage quality and nutrient value. “If it is taller at turnout, the feed quality quickly decreases, and the re-growth opportunity will be minimized,” Kallenbach said.
When considering renovating pasture that has tall fescue, producers need to be sure to kill out the fescue, by using a spray-smother-spray program. “Otherwise, old fescue will come back and cause problems,” Kallenbach said. “Review adaptation conditions and what grasses will fit what ecological setting is best. This is important especially for novel-endophyte tall fescue varieties, as they are indistinguishable to the naked eye from ‘toxic’ Kentucky 31. The wild-type endophytes are naturally occurring fungus that makes the tall fescue toxic.”
Facts about cool-season grasses:
• Require relatively cool temperatures, thus grow best in spring and fall
• Are not very drought resistant and may go dormant during hot summer months such as fescue
• Grow rapidly in spring, so grazing management or hay management has to be well organized to match grass biomass production with animal needs.
• Production goals
• Soil fertility
• Types of animals raised and marketed
• When is your calving season, spring or fall, or throughout the year?
• Again, the question is, how do I match the animal needs with forage growth?