Livestock producers who’ll need extra pasture or hay in late September or October might want to plant late-summer oats, suggests Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage agronomist.
Oats may be one of the most under-utilized fall forages, says Anderson. The crop grows fast, thrives under cool fall conditions, has good feed value and can produce over 2 tons/acre of hay or pasture yet this year. It’ll die out over winter, so it’ll protect soil without causing planting problems next spring.
To plant oats, drill about 3 bu/acre of oats in early August for maximum yield potential, he says. 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.
Even flying oats onto cornfields 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 topdress 40 lbs 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 2 lbs/day. But be careful to avoid grass tetany on lush oat pasture; ask your veterinarian if you should supplement with magnesium. Also, don't suddenly turn cattle out on oat pasture if they’ve been grazing short or dry pastures. Sudden respiratory problems could occur.
For hay, cut soon after the plants begin to dry out following a killing freeze, or cut earlier if they reach a desirable growth stage. Oats can accumulate nitrates, so test hay before feeding, Anderson advises.