Oats can offer a high-quality grazing option for spring and early summer, but getting the most out of this forage can be tricky. I’ve rounded up five tips for taking advantage of this grazing option this spring.
1. Manage initial oat growth before it gets too tall.
“Oats grows rapidly. Once it gets 5-6 in. tall, it quickly can shoot up to a foot tall in almost no time. As nice as this sounds, if initial oat growth gets that tall it may not stool out, tiller, and regrow after grazing very well. So it’s important to start grazing early and to graze hard enough to keep your oats vegetative and leafy, thereby stimulating it to constantly form new tillers,” says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist.
2. Graze early, and rest two weeks before grazing again.
“So how early is early? That’s hard to say, but if your animals start to first graze when oats get 6-8 in. tall and they remove about half the growth, it will recover rapidly and tiller well. You probably will need to give your oats a couple weeks to regrow after this first grazing, though, before grazing again,” recommends Anderson.
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3. Start with a stocking rate of one animal/two acres.
"After this first grazing to stimulate tillering, keep oat regrowth between 6-16 in. tall using either continuous or rotational stocking. Begin with a light stocking rate, maybe about one animal/two acres. Then adjust animal numbers as oat growth changes. Don’t worry if a few plants head out. But if many plants get tall and approach the boot stage, either plan one last hard graze-out grazing or consider cutting for hay,” adds Anderson.
4. Know your numbers. Test for nitrates before harvesting oats for hay.
"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,” says Vic Martin, Kansas State University Extension agronomist for Hay & Forage Grower.
5. When planting oats, seed at a rate of 2 bu./acre.
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/acre. But when they're planted for grazing, an additional 30 lbs./acre of nitrogen are recommended,” Martin suggests.
Are you grazing oats this spring? What are your best tips for success? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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