Tall fescue has a reputation of being poor hay, but according to the Kansas State University extension publication “Tall fescue production and utilization,” most of the reasons for that reputation is the hay maker, not the grass. Anytime a cool-season plant matures, forage quality drops rapidly. In fact, crude protein will drop .5 percent per day from boot stage to mature seed stage.

The secret to quality fescue hay production is adequate fertility and early cutting. Cutting the grass at earlier stages of maturity also results in lower levels of endophyte toxins in the hay, which reduce animal performance. To balance quality and quantity, cut fescue when it starts to show a few heads. Nitrogen rates should be approximately 100 pounds of actual nitrogen. Rates higher than those frequently cause lodging. Phosphate and potash should be applied as needed.

Research at the University of Missouri shows tall fescue hay baled in mid-May can be used successfully as a grazing supplement for yearlings during the hottest months of July and August when standing pastures are at their poorest quality of the year.