I’m giving in to grass. I didn’t want grass and yet we ordered an endophyte free tall fescue, white clover and yellow clover. My reasons for not wanting grass were simple…it takes too much water, nutrients, energy and time and I’d rather spend my time on things I can eat. Who wants to stand out side watering something that we can’t even eat or even laboring over something that in the end just “looks good?” Don’t get me wrong, I love grass. I think grass is beautiful and lush, but it simply isn’t such a good thing in the desert!
The reason we are giving in to grass is for our animals. While my family and I may not eat grass, we will be eating the animals that eat the grass. LOL Seems like a no brainer right? Our ducklings inspired me to rethink the grass issue. Their tender little feet will not do well on our unforgiving bare sandy loam. I imagine that the goatheads will tear right through their web feet! No thanks! We are getting grass. But what kind of grass do you get in the desert when you have foraging animals? Some people get Bermuda grass. We HAVE Bermuda grass growing and I’m trying desperately to get it pulled up. I’m losing that battle though since we don’t use Round Up or any other type of weed killer or pesticide. Bermuda grasses are invasive and tend to find themselves where they don’t belong…like by my fruit trees, fruits and veggies. I don’t need that grass choking the life out of my family’s food. A tall fescue is a good alternative if you just want a nice lush lawn. If you are planning on using that grass as food for your livestock and horses, however, you’ll have to consider an endophyte free tall fescue.

In an excerpt of “Endophyte Toxins in Grass Seed Fields and Straw, the Effects on Livestock” by S. Aldrich-Markham, G. Pirelli, and A.M. Craig here is what is said about endophytes:

Endophyte is a fungus that lives within the plant. The relationship between a grass and its endophyte is symbiotic; that is, they both benefit. The grass provides nutrients, and the endophyte produces toxins that fend off insects, diseases and grazing animals. Endophyte also helps the grass tolerate drought and other environmental stresses. Since endophyte does not affect the appearance of the grass plant, its presence can  be detected only by laboratory analysis.

Some grass varieties grown for turf seed have high levels of endophyte infection. The reason is that turf breeders select for the pest resistance and other good qualities that endophyte-infected plants have, without worrying about the effect of the grass on grazing animals. Breeders of forage varieties, on the other hand, have been deliberately selecting out infected plants since the late 1970’s, when the connection between endophyte in tall fescue and the livestock disorder called fescue toxicosis was discovered.

The forage varieties of tall fescue and perennial ryegrass seed produced currently in Oregon are endophyte free or have very low endophyte levels. Turf varieties, however, are an increasingly larger segment of the total grass seed production. Also, some new turf varieties are higher in endophyte than the older ones. Therefore, the risk of livestock from Oregon grass seed fields and straw has increased.

Endophyte is transmitted only through the seed, and its entire life cycle takes place inside the plant tissues. A plant does not become infected from its neighbors. Therefore a stand of a noninfected variety will remain noninfected.

To read the full pdf article which also includes the affects endophytes have on grazing animals, especially horses, you can click here.

We need to amend our sandy loam, get quite a few acacia trees for the large pasture area, a few more sprinklers and then we’ll be holding our breath waiting for it to grow. I’ll be doing a few trial patches with different amendments and mulches in the chicken pasture first to see which is the most affective. Its a big task to start grass out here. We have over 100 degree weather right now, harsh winds, blazing sun and a drought. Sounds inviting for young grass right? LOL

The acacia trees will be planted twenty feet from each other to form a micro irrigation naturally. As the roots spread from the acacia trees, they will bring up water for the grass. The acacia tree leaves also allow light to filter through, allowing the grass to survive out here in our sometimes harsh climate. Acacias are legume trees that fix nitrogen in the soil, so they will also take care of feeding our hungry grasses. Acacias are truly a multipurpose tree! Providing micro irrigation to grass, plant food, and also protein for grazing animals.

While I understood the relationship between acacia trees and forage grasses, I really wasn’t thinking about our future animals. Its just one of those BIG details that ended up being a blind spot in my brain. Now I’m excited about growing the best possible food for our animals…both now and in the future.