It’s almost August and fall is just around the corner. Could you use some extra pasture or hay in late September and October? Oats might be your answer.
Oats may be one of our most under-used fall forages. It grows fast, thrives under cool fall conditions, has good feed value, and can produce over 2 tons of hay or pasture yet this year. Plus, it dies out over winter, so it protects soil without causing planting problems next spring.
Oats also play well with others. Need a bit of spring growth? Mix in some winter small grains like cereal rye, wheat or triticale. They won’t produce much fall growth but can provide early grazing next spring.
Want a high-quality grazeable forage in the late fall or early winter? Select a long season oat that won’t go to seed and add in a brassica like a turnip or forage rapeseed. Oat-brassica mixes can produce large amounts of forage in the fall, then hold quality well into the middle of winter even when they aren’t green.
To plant oats, drill about 3 bushels of oats per acre in early August for maximum yield potential. A fully prepared seedbed usually is best, but you can plant oats directly into weed-free wheat stubble or other crop residues when soil moisture is available. Avoid fields with herbicide carryover. For an added boost, topdress 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre unless the previous crop was heavily fertilized.
With good moisture, oats will be ready to graze about six to eight weeks after emergence. Calves and yearlings can gain over two pounds per day. Consider supplementing with magnesium to avoid grass tetany on lush oat pasture, and don't suddenly turn livestock out on oat pasture if they have been grazing short or dry pastures. Sudden respiratory and digestive problems can occur.
For hay, cut oats soon after plants begin to dry out following a killing freeze, or cut earlier if plants reach a desirable growth stage. Oats can accumulate nitrates, so test hay before feeding.
If you have good soil moisture, give fall oats a try. Some of your best forage growth may still be ahead of you.