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MaxQ Tall Fescue Forage Benefits

Please note that MaxQ Endophyte Friendly Tall Fescue grass has been in use for  over10 years now. This article, while outdated, does contain relevant information for those considering the planting of MaxQ Tall Fescue Grass Seed in pastures.

A novel approachBag of MaxQ Tall Fescue Seed
Reprinted from an article by Jason Gerke

Section: Tools and Strategies
Posted: Jun 07, 2002 By Jason Gerke :

Tall fescue is by far the best forage in the world in my opinion," says Cliff Schuette, cow-calf producer from Breese, Ill., "if you can just get rid of the poison that is in it. The majority of my pasture is Kentucky 31 tall fescue. It has made me a bunch of money, but at the same time it has cost me money because of the reduction of conception rates in cows and weight gain in calves."

Double-edged sword
Tall fescue accounts for over 40 million acres of pasture and forage land in the
United States. The most common variety referred to as Kentucky 31 is found through out the middle, eastern, and southeastern regions of the country. There are a number of reasons for its popularity. It is easy to establish, is easily adaptable, has a long growing season, tolerates overgrazing and pests well, responds well to fertilization, and maintains quality when stockpiled for winter grazing.

But tall fescue is a double-edged sword. Over 90 percent of the fescue fields tested in the United States contain an endophyte fungus. While this endophyte is credited with increasing persistence in the plant, it is simultaneously releasing ergovaline toxins that poison grazing animals disrupting circulation and causing weight loss and poor health. Economists estimate that toxic endophytes in tall fescue cost the cattle industry roughly a half-billion dollars annually in loss of weaning weight, loss in average daily gain, and loss in calf crop numbers due to open cows caused by endophyte.

Ergovaline is a vascular constrictor meaning that it constricts the surface blood vessels in livestock so they can not dissipate their heat. What that equates to is about six months of an elevated body temperature in the summer time. The poor circulation also reduces an animal's ability to maintain warmth in the wintertime causing the loss of extremities.

Research from across the southern United States shows that endophyte can reduce weight gain by more than 50 percent in steers fed on pasture. Agalactia -a diminished ability to produce milk- is especially severe when cows graze tall fescue during the last trimester of gestation. Agalactia leads to thickened placentas, aborted fetuses, and when the offspring does survive, there is a lack of colostrum and milk for the calf.

Reducing the effects
Studies have determined cattle nearly double their weight gains during the grazing season when they eat endophyte-free fescue varieties. But the endophyte-free cultivars often struggle since tall fescue needs to have the endophyte to persist just as the endophyte needs the fescue plant to live.

There are other management practices that producers can implement to reduce the negative effects of endophyte-infected fescue.

"I make sure clover is in all the pastures to help dilute the toxicity," says Mr. Schuette. "And we are clipping all of the pasture so that all of the seed heads are knocked down."

Mr. Schuette implements a management-intensive grazing program to keep the forage-the majority of which is infected Kentucky 31 tall fescue-in a vegetative state instead of letting it mature.

"In the summer months I also use some of the row crop ground for grazing," adds Mr. Schuette. "I try to get out on some of my row crop ground by first putting wheat out and then frost seeding clover underneath the wheat. After we take the wheat off in late June or early July there is usually about 4 to 6 inches of clover growth in the stubble, and we will graze that in July and August to help support the pasture system."

Despite all this clipping and management to control fescue toxicity, Mr. Schuette says his cattle are still under stress in the summer time from the toxicity. They like to bunch up in corners and stand by the water tank. Body temperature is really crucial in the summertime. If cows have an elevated body temperature, just like humans, they don't feel well and they do not eat much.

What producers need is forage with the production potential of endophyte-free fescue but with the persistence of infected fescue varieties.

A novel endophyte
Tall fescue varieties infected with a novel endophyte will soon be widely available. They have the potential to offer a "best-of-both-worlds" solution for livestock producers.

The Jesup MaxQ (tm) which is currently on the market, is a combination of a superior tall fescue cultivars and a non-toxic endophyte. MaxQ is the name of the patented novel endophyte, not the plant. It is completely natural with no chemicals or genetic engineering involved in its production. The MaxQ endophyte was discovered in the Mediterranean by New Zealand researchers. Upon identifying an endophyte fungus that didn't produce high levels of toxic alkaloids, researchers inserted it into a hardy tall fescue variety developed at the University of Georgia called Jesup. The novel seed is now marketed through Pennington Seed based in Madison, Ga.

There are other cultivars and endophytes currently being patented. In fact producers can expect another product from the University of Arkansas to have a shelf presence later this year.

Performance to date
To test out the new seed variety, Mr. Schuette first seeded a small area of marginal, highly erodible land that he wanted to take out of row crop production. Due to a wet summer, the soil could not be worked up in September, so the new seeding of Jesup with MaxQ got off to a tough start. Mr. Schuette reported that over the first winter there was not much of a stand but was later impressed with its winter survivability and strong spring growth.

"Last year was unusually dry, but the Max Q fescue continued to grow and hold its own under dry conditions despite being a newly seeded pasture," says Mr. Schuette. "In comparison I also had an endophyte-free variety planted and saw less than a 10 percent stand by the fall. "The first cutting was put into hay to prolong cattle pressure, but the new forage was then put into Mr. Schuette's 30-day rotational grazing system. Cattle grazed the novel tall fescue paddock for three or four days then moved off the paddock for 25 to 27 days. This continued all through the summer during the dry period.

"Since I did not have water in the newly established MaxQ paddock yet, the cattle had a choice of grazing two paddocks," reports Mr. Schuette. "One paddock had existing pasture of Kentucky 31 fescue, red clover and alfalfa mixed in. The cattle were continuously in the straight Max Q paddock when given a choice. The biggest difference is intake. They are eating more. They are not refusing it like Kentucky 31.

"It proved itself on the farm for me," adds Mr. Schuette. "I like to do a lot of side-by-side comparisons if I can. After last year it sold me, so I put a net of 20 acres in last fall. I had a lot better fall and winter for it. As a matter of fact, the MaxQ grew so much this past winter and early spring that I could not frost seed my clover on because I had too much growth."

On the research side Craig Roberts, professor of agronomy at the University of Missouri, says the beef production seems to be outstanding and persistence seems to be very good.

"We conducted the grazing trials for two years measuring animal responses," says Dr. Roberts. "Once we saw that it was not toxic to the steers, we started to focus on performance. All things being equal, our steers have gained twice as much on novel infected fescue as they did on the Kentucky 31 fescue with the toxic endophyte. They look like they are grazing orchard grass. The entire hair coat is slicked off in the summer. They are fat and muscular. They don't have any problems with fescue foot. "Challenges
The new varieties still present challenges for producers. The seed can be expensive, and with the novel endophyte, there's nothing to suppress the animals' appetites.

"The beef production seems to be outstanding and the persistence seems to be very good. And there is a difference," says Dr. Roberts. "You can't have everything."

Researchers in Missouri and Georgia report that they have seen about a 10 percent stand loss in the novel endophyte varieties. It could be caused by low alkaloid levels, says Dr. Roberts, because alkaloids have some anti-microbial and anti-herbivore activity. But more likely the novel endophyte varieties are just overgrazed.

"When cattle graze novel-infected tall fescue, they eat it like they would any non-toxic, highly-nutritious grass," says Dr. Roberts. "So, if you don't watch it, they can graze it down to where you will have a little bit of stand loss. That doesn't mean that it is not persistent forage. If animals are gaining so much more weight, then where is the weight coming from? Well it is coming from the pasture because the intake is much higher. Since it is coming from the pasture they may be overgrazing it. The stubble may be lower and at times it may look a little stressed."

Cost of implementation
Renovating an acre of land with a MaxQ fescue variety will cost between $60 and $80 per acre in seed alone. And if you have to tear up or spray out old fescue, then your cost will increase. "But if you can increase weaning weights by 60 to 75 pounds that is worth $60 to $75 in the first year," says Robert Johnson, a representative for Pennington Seed Company. "If you will take that a step further and graze that weaned calf for an additional 100 days in which he can gain an extra pound per day, that ought to be worth another $100."

With strong persistence, adds Mr. Johnson, you are looking at that lasting a lot longer.

"This is not a payoff that you are going to receive in the second or third year. This is a pay off that you are going to receive each of the next 20 years."

Read MaxQ yearly planning guide for successful establishment.
Read more on MaxQ Planting Tips    Growing a beautiful tomorrow!®

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