Using spring-planted oats for pasture has great potential, but if not grazed correctly, the results may be disappointing.
In recent years, oat pastures have become more popular. According to Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist, oats can reduce the effects of drought and provide fast, early grazing. It has potential to be very productive and last through early summer.
In UNL’s BeefWatch newsletter, Anderson shares a few grazing recommendations to help you succeed with grazing oats.
Oats grow rapidly, and once 5 or 6 inches tall they can quickly shoot up to a foot in a matter of days. This sounds appealing, but if initial growth reaches that height, it may not stool out, tiller, and regrow after grazing. Therefore, it is important to begin grazing early and with enough intensity to keep the oats vegetative and leafy, stimulating new tiller formation.
Anderson notes that it is hard to directly pinpoint when grazing should begin. If animals begin grazing when oats reach 6 to 8 inches and just half the growth is removed, the plants should recover rapidly and initiate new tillers. Allow oats a couple weeks to regrow after the first grazing before grazing again.
Following the first grazing, keep oat regrowth between 6 and 16 inches using either continuous or rotational stocking. Begin with a light stocking rate of about one animal for every 2 or 3 acres, then adjust animal number as oat growth changes. Anderson says not to worry if a few plants head out.
If many plants are tall and approaching the boot stage, either stock heavily for one last hard graze-out or consider cutting the oats for hay.
Concludes Anderson, “We will need to experiment a bit to perfect it, but oat grazing looks promising.”
Sydney Sleep was the 2016 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern and is a junior at South Dakota University.