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Horse Forage and Forage Management

Perennial Winter Pasture Grasses

By R.L. Dalrymple
and Charles Griffith

Posted Jan. 1, 2000

Fescue. Fescue is a winter perennial forage adapted to the eastern half of Oklahoma, much of the eastern half of the United States, and some irrigated areas. Old-style fescue has a bad reputation as both a cattle and horse forage because of toxic disorders the animals develop when grazing endophyte (fungus) infested plants. Don't let expectant mares graze endophytic fescue. Refer to "Fescue Toxicity."

The new endophyte-free fescues have proven excellent for cattle, and the same appears true with horses. These fescues are better quality but they do not persist as well as endophyte-containing fescue. Using rotational grazing and leaving 3 to 6 inches of residue is imperative for stand persistence.

Fescue can be a useful forage from October to March and from March to late May. Fertilization is much the same as that suggested for annual winter pastures.

There are novell (friendly) endophytic fescue varieties. These fescues have a nontoxic fungus, infused into the physiological system, that gives them stress hardiness similar to that of toxic endophyte-containing fescue. The novell endophyte fescue has superb quality characteristics. The variety presently available is 'Max Q'.

If you plant fescue, be certain to use endophyte-free varieties or novell endophyte varieties for brood mares.

Smooth Bromegrass. Smooth bromegrass can be a useful winter forage in far northeastern Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, and western Missouri. It has the same growth season as fescue. Fertilization management is much the same as that suggested for annual winter pastures. Smooth bromegrass is good horse hay. Good varieties include 'Achenbach', which is persistent, and 'Lincoln'.

Rescuegrass (Bromegrass). Rescuegrass is a high-quality bromegrass that is a short-lived or weak perennial compared with the hardiest cool-season perennials. To be volunteer reseeders, these grasses can also be managed as annual ryegrass and crabgrass. They volunteer better than other coolseason perennial grasses. 'Stocker' and 'Matua' bromegrasses are two available varieties.

Wheatgrasses. These grasses have limited adaptation to most of Oklahoma: tall wheatgrass, pubescent wheatgrass, and western wheatgrass. Persistence and production under dry land is better than that of fescue in central and western Oklahoma. They have a season similar to that of fescue, and they offer more use than fescue in the western half of Oklahoma. Well-managed wheatgrass is good horse hay. Several varieties are available and include 'Jose' tall wheatgrass, 'Luna' pubescent wheatgrass, and 'Manska' pubescent wheatgrass.

Orchardgrass. Orchardgrass is excellent horse pasture and hay. It is a relatively stable perennial in the northeastern and east central area of Oklahoma. Stands can last several years, but persistence is not as good as that of fescue where fescue can grow well. 'Paiute' orchardgrass is among the most persistent.

Perennial Ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass is an excellent forage with a green season similar to that of fescue. It has limited adaptation because summer drought and heat usually kill it. At best, it is a short-lived perennial with lower production than that of fescue and bromegrass. Perennial ryegrass is very winter hardy compared with annual ryegrass, and it may be used as an annual with lower forage production potential in northern areas.

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