Late-planted oats may be answer to hay shortages

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LANCASTER, Ohio – Oats, traditionally grown in the spring as a grain crop, can also be planted in the summer as a late season forage, providing a feed alternative for livestock producers short on hay or pasture.
Based on five years of Ohio State University Extension research, oats planted in late July or early August can be grazed well into winter.
With high production and feed quality, and low cost, oats are turning out to be one of the best forage crops available to producers.
Results. “We have consistently experienced production of 4 to 7 tons of dry matter with an average of 18 percent protein.
“In some trials we were still getting 11 percent protein with oats grazed as late as March,” said Stan Smith, an OSU Extension program assistant in Fairfield County.
“The average production of hay harvested from perennial forages in Ohio is less than half of that. Without including land or harvest costs, the oats produced at that tonnage come at a total cost of less than $25 per ton, even at today’s fertilizer prices.
“Hay, by comparison, is presently valued at $60 to $70 or more per ton.”
With forage production down this season due to a spring cold spell and ongoing dry conditions, producers are desperately searching for alternative forages that are easy to establish and won’t break the bank.
Inspiration. Planting oats in the summer with the idea of grazing the crop was never thought of in Ohio until Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District engineering technician Curt Stivison made a trip to the Heart of America Grazing Conference in 2001.
There, Stivison learned about late-planted oats research through the University of Illinois and decided to bring the concept back to Ohio.
“I planted oats in my garden that summer. By Christmas, the oats were still growing. At the time I didn’t know of anyone else in Ohio growing late-planted oats,” said Stivison.
“In 2002, I moved the trials to a crop field with similar results, and through collaboration with Stan Smith, we’ve been conducting late-planted oat trials ever since.”
Advantage. Unlike spring oat, late-season oats no longer produce seeds. As a result, all of the energy is put into leaf production (the source of dry matter protein).
Oats will continue to grow until a significant freeze stops them, which in some cases can be as late as the end of December.
Late-season oats can be seeded after wheat harvest, or interseeded with corn or soybeans.
Though oats won’t grow as tall in the presence of other crops, they can increase the overall quality of crop residues because of their high protein content, making corn fodder and soybean stubble more nutritional for livestock.
Late-season oats can be grazed in the field, baled like hay or ensiled.
Reasons. Smith said oats are a more attractive forage alternative than sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, cereal rye or annual rye grass for a number of reasons:

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