The use of grass species other than ryegrass is some areas of New Zealand is becoming more common. One such species is tall fescue. Tall fescue is often used in areas where temperatures are high and soil structure doesn’t lend itself to the shallower rooted grass species. It can tolerate salinity, poor drainage and high heat more than perennial ryegrass due to its deeper roots and is a high performance grass option in summer dry areas. Tall fescue offers high feed quality and production when managed well. Tall fescue needs to be rotationally grazed.
Tall fescue is slower to establish than perennial ryegrass so planting time, and weed control are crucial to aid establishment. Tall fescue requires higher soil temperatures at sowing (12 – 15 degrees Celsius), so planting in spring is the most common as declining soil temperatures during autumn can allow weeds or other species to compete with the slower establishing fescue. Soil preparation, fertiliser and weed/pest control is similar to establishing ryegrass pastures. As tall fescue seed is large a sowing rate of 15 – 25 kg/ha should be used.
Delay tall fescue’s first grazing until plants have reached 15cm in height and cannot be easily pulled.
For the first few grazings, graze lightly with light animals and leave a good plant residue (around 7cm).
Once established fescue should be rotationally grazed and managed similarly to a well managed ryegrass pasture.
Ryegrass production is limited above 25 degress Celsius, whereas tall fescue will tolerate temperates into the 30’s..