Meadow Fescue and the Oak Savanna

At least today the average farmerkeeps his eyes open and checks on what works. I suspect that a lot of the better grasses simply need a better pacingof the grazing schedule to optimize productivity.

I also expect that we will see areturn to growing trees in pasture lands as a matter of sound husbandry.  Here we note the benefits of the old oak savannahin providing sparse shade and some surprisingly rich soils.  We need to discover trees that do the same asthe acacia in Africa were the leaves alsoprovide forage.

The point is that is this needsto be really thought through and supported. Pasture land with ample shade, commercial timber production, wood chipproduction, annual forage leaf production and shade cover for rich summer grassproduction in combination with cattle husbandry to consume all the forage anattractive alternative to the present uniculture approach that has to dancearound the high summer.

The idea of planning our pasturesas thinly populated woodlands with ample shade loving grasses should have beenobvious, but it was not even obvious in Africa were all the tools are in place.

Dairy Farmer Finds Unusual Forage Grass

by Don Comis

Washington DC (SPX) Mar 18, 2011

ARS geneticist Michael Casler has "rediscovered" a long forgottenforage grass called meadow fescue. It offers better nutrition than tall fescueand orchard grass.

A U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) grass breeder has rediscovered a forage grassthat seems just right for today's intensive rotational grazing.

A farmer's report of an unusual forage grass led Michael Casler, an Agricultural ResearchService (ARS) geneticist at the agency's U.S.Dairy ForageResearch Centerin Madison, Wis., to identify the grass as meadowfescue. Meadow fescue has been long forgotten, although it was popular afterbeing introduced about 50 to 60 years before tall fescue.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Casler has developed a new variety of meadow fescue called HiddenValley, and its seed is being grown for future release.

Non-toxic fungi calledendophytes live inside meadow fescue, helping it survive heat, drought andpests. Unlike the toxic endophytes that inhabit many commercial varietiesof tall fescue and ryegrass, meadow fescue does not poison livestock.

Charles Opitz found the grass growing in the deep shade of a remnantoak savannah on his dairy farm near Mineral Point, Wis. He reported that the cowslove it and produce more milk when they eat it. Casler used DNA markers toidentify Opitz's find.

Meadow fescue is very winter-hardy and persistent, having surviveddecades of farming.It emerged from oak savannah refuges to dominate many pastures in the Midwest's driftless region, named for its lack of glacialdrift, the material left behind by retreating continental glaciers.

Casler and his colleagues have since found the plant on more than 300farms in the driftless region of Wisconsin, Iowaand Minnesota.Geoffrey Brink, an ARS agronomist working with Casler, discovered thatmeadow fescue is 4 to 7 percent more digestible than other cool-season grassesdominant in the United States.

In another study, meadow fescue had a nutritional forage qualityadvantage over tall fescue and orchard grass that may compensate for itsslightly lower annual yield further north, as reported in the Agronomy Journal.Also, the yield gap begins to close with the frequent harvesting involved inintensive grazing.

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