Pete Kappelman googled to find a small grain he could drill into last summer’s winter wheat stubble and use as silage at his Two Rivers, WI, dairy.

With his alfalfa yields down by a third, silage corn tonnage iffy and byproduct feed prices through the roof, he found research supporting the use of no-tilled oats as forage. The doublecrop also maximized the use of his rented winter wheat ground, he says.

Gary Wilson experimented with oats on his Jenera, OH, land for years, hoping to recommend their use as a doublecrop forage to local beef producers.

“It was driving me crazy to hear beef producers complain of not having enough forage when they had all that wheat stubble ground” lying unused, says the former Ohio State University Extension educator.

Both were pleased with the high digestibility of the crop.

“The NDF digestibility was 76%,” says Kappelman of the oat silage he’d planned to feed to heifers and dry cows. Instead, he uses it as a mat-maker in the milking ration to stimulate the rumen. But because its quality is higher than that of the rye silage he usually uses, he adds more of the oat silage to his ration, also saving on byproduct feed costs.

The dairyman seeded the grain oat variety Standard Vista in mid-August on 150 acres after applying 9,000 gallons/acre of liquid manure. It was harvested Nov. 6-7 and yielded 1.77 tons/acre of dry matter at an average cost of $89/ton of dry matter. That figure includes cutting, harvesting and packing costs.

Yet there was a challenge in harvesting the crop.

“We barely got it dry enough. It was about 70% moisture, and I would have liked to have seen it in the mid-60s,” he says. “If I could get the protein and energy up a little bit … it was heading out but it was not putting starch down into the kernel. The sugar content was really high, but the days kept getting shorter and colder.”

Kappelman, who milks 450 head of mostly registered Holsteins, plans to grow oats again this fall unless prices drop for other feeds.

“But we need to cut it earlier – two or three weeks earlier,” he surmises. “We’re going to give up some yield but we’ll gain quality.” The relative feed value (RFV) of the oatlage was 102; the relative forage quality (RFQ), 138. It tested 31% dry matter, 11% crude protein (CP), 36% ADF and 55% NDF, as well as nearly 7% sugar and just more than 2% starch.

Wilson compared forage, certified grain and feed oats (also called Canadian or bin-run oats) for quality and economics to feed to beef cows and sheep.

His advice to Ohio livestock producers: save money and use feed/Canadian oats. “These oats aren’t the kind of oats Grandpa used to raise,” which were chaffy, he says. “The Canadian oats have more forage on them and are better for this kind of program. In 60 days you can get 2 or 3 tons of forage per acre.”

In his 2008 experiment, Wilson no-tilled feed oats as well as other annuals – brown midrib (BMR) sudangrass, pearl millet and teff – about the last week in July into 15” winter wheat stubble with 25 lbs of nitrogen applied.

Oats, planted at about 3 bu/acre, brought the highest yield, had generally higher quality characteristics and were most economical.

It cost Wilson $17.39/ton for oat seed and nitrogen. That’s a lot less than the $39 and $31/ton seed and fertilizer costs of pearl millet and BMR sudangrass, respectively. Teff was not a good fit, he adds.

Feed oats and BMR sudangrass were summer-seeded in 2009 after wheat harvest and a Roundup application to kill off volunteer wheat. Feed oats tested 13% CP and 60% NDF with an RFV of 90; sudangrass tested 10% CP, 65.5% NDF and 90 RFV.

In 2010 he compared BMR sudangrass to feed and forage oats while adding a fourth crop of forage oats with chickling vetch, “a nice little viney legume that winds itself up on the oat stand and adds protein and tonnage,” Wilson says.

Crude protein ranged from 9.5% for the sudangrass to 11% for forage oats, 12% for forage oats plus chickling vetch and feed oats. NDF ranged from 52% to 56% for the three oat treatments and 67% for the BMR sudangrass. RFV was 102 for forage oats, 110 for feed oats, 112 for forage oats-chickling vetch and 77 for BMR sudangrass.

He baled and wrapped much of the late-summer crop for baleage, using a neighbor’s large square baler and wrapper. Spring-seeded oats were baled as dry hay part of the time and grazed other times.

Making dry hay takes work, he says. “You have to have a good tedder, because you have to beat it to death to get it dry. But it did make excellent hay and the livestock really do well on it.

“I’ve even planted oats the first part of August and dry-baled it. But you have to do that before the end of September, because it gets hard to dry. You might have to get a tedder out and beat it around, but if you have three days of sunshine, you can get it dry and make some great oat hay. Or you can leave it alone and use it for winter grazing."