Spring oats supply quick forage

Great Plains livestock producers whose hayfields and pastures have been hurt by dry weather in recent years may want to consider planting oats this spring, says a Kansas State University extension agronomist

Great Plains livestock producers whose hayfields and pastures have been hurt by dry weather in recent years may want to consider planting oats this spring, says a Kansas State University extension agronomist.

"Recent winter precipitation provides an opportunity for producers who need a quick supply of forage from spring pasture, silage, or high-quality hay for next fall and winter," says Vic Martin. "Spring oats may be an option for producers in this situation."

While best-suited for hay or silage, oats can also provide high-quality pasture in April and May, until other grazing sites are available, says Martin, a grazing systems specialist at Kansas State University's South Central Experiment Field in Hutchinson.

He offers these production tips:

· Treat oat pasture as you would winter wheat pasture when determining stocking rates and when to place cattle in terms of vegetative growth.

· Grain production is not recommended under grazing oats, so the length of pasture production will depend on stocking rate and weather.

· Oats should be harvested for silage from late milk through early dough stages. Expect silage that tests about 60% TDN and 9% protein on a dry basis.

· Oats should be harvested for hay in the late boot to early heading stage. Harvested at the soft dough stage, hay should have an approximate TDN of 56% with 10% protein. A nitrate test is recommended when harvesting oats for hay.

· Before planting oats, check previous herbicide applications on the field. Oats are especially sensitive to triazine herbicides.

· Seed at a rate of 2 bu/acre when planting for pasture, although under good soil conditions, 3 bu/acre may be preferable.

· When oats are grown for hay or silage, fertility recommendations are similar to those for grain production -- 75-125 lbs of nitrogen per acre. But when they're planted for grazing, an additional 30 lbs/acre of nitrogen are recommended.

"Oats may be successfully planted no-till," Martin says. "However, growth and vigor are typically greater where pre-plant tillage is used."

In either case, a fine, firm seedbed is necessary for optimal production and winter annual weeds should be controlled either with tillage or with a burn-down herbicide prior to planting.

"Herbicides are available, although many are not permitted under forage production," he adds. "Before using any herbicides, producers should always check the label."