Researchers continue to be sold on the unusual, yet much welcomed, benefits of treating tall fescue and other forages with seaweed extract.

The unique treatment improves fescue's nutritional value as well as the immune systems of stocker cattle grazed on treated pastures, research shows. What's more, in a first-year trial, the improved immunity remained with the cattle throughout a 130-day feeding period.

Recent research has revealed that seaweed-treated alfalfa produces better late-season yields.

Seaweed-forage research findings were first reported in the March 1997 issue of Hay & Forage Grower. About the same time, they were presented at the American Forage and Grassland Council Annual Conference in Fort Worth, TX, by Vivien Allen, Texas Tech University forage scientist.

"Research indicates that the seaweed extract treatment improves both the plant and the animal," says Kevin Pond, head of the Texas Tech animal science department. "If it wasn't documented, you would say one product couldn't do that."

This spring, Pond and Allen will see results from a second group of cattle that grazed seaweed-treated grass before being shipped to the university's Burnett research feedlot.

In the initial trial, cattle that grazed seaweed-treated tall fescue at Virginia Tech and Mississippi State University developed stronger-than-normal immune systems. The enhanced immunity remained during and after transport to Texas, and through the final feeding process.

Research by Allen and others also indicates that seaweed extract could alleviate problems associated with grazing endophyte-infected fescue. And endophyte-free fescue might persist longer and be less susceptible to insects, nematodes and other stresses.

Dick Schmidt, who discovered seaweed extract's benefits while doing turf grass research at Virginia Tech, says it adds nutrients to the forage.

"We are increasing the antioxidant (vitamins E and C, etc.,) in the plant, which sometimes cannot be naturally manufactured by the plant," says Schmidt. "It benefits the animals and can do it more efficiently than putting these nutrients in the feed."

In the research at all three universities, seaweed extract has been applied at a rate of3 lbs per acre in early spring. A second application has been made in midsummer.

"We're still not sure exactly how much to apply," says Allen. "We're not sure if a smaller treatment will work, or if the cattle would maintain the strong immune system if the July treatment isn't given."

Further Texas Tech studies will include treated wheat, ryegrass and other forages. A Mississippi State trial involving various forages for hay was washed out by too much rain, but will be repeated this year.

Virginia Tech research on seaweed-treated alfalfa showed definite benefits.

"We saw an increase in yields," Schmidt states. "But, surprisingly, the largest significant increase was in our fourth cutting. This indicates that the extract was preventing the plants from aging."

Pond and Allen also observed fed-cattle receiving a seaweed-treated, grain sorghum-based ration.

"We were able to alter the immune system, but not as much as with the forage," he says.

"Further studies should help us answer the many questions we still have about the overall benefits of treating forages with seaweed extract," Allen adds.

The seaweed extract is purchased from Acadian Seaplants, Ltd. of Nova Scotia. That company buys seaweed harvested by fishermen, then processes it into a water-soluble, powder-like material nearly black in color.

Acadian's Sean Carson says the company has a network of U.S. distributors and is getting more and more inquiries about the product.

"We are seeing sales for forage application and direct feed application," says Carson. For more information on the availability of seaweed extract, call Acadian at 902-468-2840.