“Oats may be one of our most under-used fall forages,” says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist. “It grows fast, thrives under cool fall conditions, has good feed value, and can produce over two tons of hay or pasture yet this year. And it dies out over winter, so it protects soil without causing planting problems next spring.”
Writing in a recent issue of Hay and Forage Minutes, Anderson says, to plant oats, drill about 3 bu. of oats/acre in early August for maximum yield potential.
“A fully prepared seedbed usually is best, but you can plant oats directly into wheat stubble or other crop residues if weeds are killed ahead of planting,” Anderson says. “Even flying oats onto corn fields severely damaged by weather or to be chopped early for silage can work, although rye tends to work better for flying on seed. Avoid fields with herbicide carryover, and top-dress 40 lbs./acre of nitrogen unless the previous crop was heavily fertilized.”
With good moisture, Anderson says oats will be ready to graze 6-8 weeks after emergence. He adds that calves and yearlings can gain more than 2 lbs./day.
“But be careful to avoid grass tetany on lush oat pasture; ask your veterinarian if you should supplement with magnesium,” Anderson says. “Also, don't suddenly turn out on oat pasture if livestock have been grazing short or dry pastures. Sudden respiratory problems can occur.”
If you plan to harvest the oats for hay, Anderson recommends cutting soon after plants begin to dry out following a killing freeze, or earlier if plants reach a desirable growth stage.
“Oats can accumulate nitrates, so test hay before feeding,” Anderson says. “If you have good soil moisture, give fall oats a try. Some of your best forage growth may still be ahead of you.”