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McClain County

Spring Oats for Forage

Spring Oats for Forage

There are currently few opportunities remaining in our area to produce late-winter and early-spring forage if you did not plant wheat pasture, annual ryegrass, or have fescue pastures.  One option to consider that may offer some hope for relief is spring-planted oats.  Oats can be planted in late winter Beef on Oatsthrough early spring for pasture or hay.  Even though there is substantial risk involved with this strategy due to weather, it may offer some help for increasing a short forage supply.  The primary considerations for success are that it must be drill-planted on a prepared seedbed when the opportunity arises and managed accordingly.

There are not wide selections of oat varieties available, but those for use in the southern USA are preferable to northern USA varieties.  The window for spring-planted oats is between February 1st and March 10 with an optimal planting time during the last full week of February.  Oats should be drill-planted on a conventionally prepared seedbed at a seeding rate of 80 to 100 pounds of seed per acre.  Seeding depth can be as deep as 1½ inches, but a depth of only ½ to ¾ inch will increase the rate of emergence, establishment, and forage production potential.

Forage production potential from a spring-planted oat crop will average 1500 to 2000 pounds of forage per acre.  Based on the forage production of spring planted oats, planning should include N fertilizer at a rate of 60 to 75 pounds actual N per acre after establishment.

Spring-planted oats harvested for hay should be cut at early heading. Once the seed heads begin to emerge, there will be no appreciable increase in yield.  Likewise, once the seed heads begin to emerge, there will be a substantial decrease in nutritive value due to the accumulation of stem tissue and also leaf loss. For grazing, oat plants should be a minimum of 6 inches tall. Be sure there is an adequate root system developed as well before grazing.

Spring planted oats mature quite rapidly once the spring temperatures began warming.  Each acre of spring-planted oats should be able to provide between 35 and 60 days of grazing for a mature beef animal.  Growing animals (750 pounds) can be stocked at approximately 1.5 animals per acre for 60 days.

Do not consider spring-planted oats to be the fool-proof solution to remedy a short forage supply.  There are substantial risks involved mainly due to dry weather.  With planning and a little luck, a spring-planted oat crop may add some additional forage to an already short or non-existent forage supply.

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