Is Tall Fescue Still Bad for Horses?
By: Joy Beam Yoder, King’s AgriSeeds February 2022
Tall fescue is a highly discussed topic in the realm of horse hay. In most cases, it is talked about with a negative connotation. However, there is good reason to give it a second chance as a premiere equine hay.
Tall Fescue is known most widely for a low-cost old variety named Kentucky 31. This variety was bred in the state of Kentucky in the year 1931, hence its name. Kentucky 31 was, and still is, detrimental to livestock as it causes miscarriages in mares and decreased weight gain in cattle. These side effects are caused by a fungus that lives within the tall fescue plant. This fungus is known as an endophyte. From the grass’s perspective, it is a symbiotic relationship. The fungus is given a place to live, while the tall fescue host is given extra persistence to drought and abusive grazing. Although Kentucky 31 is still sold on the market, planting it is highly cautioned against despite its appealing low price.
However, other tall fescues are not the same as Kentucky 31 and are safe for horses while offering many benefits for hay production. Thanks to new breeding strategies, there are endophyte free tall fescues, meaning that there is no fungus counterpart to the plant. If someone is cautious about tall fescue, this is a good option to begin with. There are also tall fescues with beneficial, or ‘friendly’, endophytes. This means that the endophyte fungus provides all of the benefits, including drought and heat tolerance as well as overall hardiness, while having no negative side effects to horses or cattle. This is a huge benefit for hay producers as they will see higher yields and greater longevity. This advantage can lead to a greater supply of hay on the market and greater market stability which is also an advantage for the hay buyer.
There are many safe tall fescues on the market, however, it is still good to know what you are buying. There can be a large difference in texture and palatability between tall fescues. Some are soft leafed while some are coarser. Rest assured though that if your hay comes from seed sourced from King’s AgriSeeds, the hay is safe for horses. King’s AgriSeeds does not carry any harmful tall fescues. In fact, a number of the tall fescues in the King’s AgriSeeds lineup are currently being used for horse hay production with great customer satisfaction. If you haven’t yet tried tall fescue hay, give it a try. You may be surprised at what your horse tells you!