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Growing oats for extra pasture, hay, silage

By Noel Mues
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator

If you are interested in having some extra pasture and hay this spring, oats might be an option. There is still time to plant oats, and they might be one of the surest ways to provide feed for your cattle.

Oats make an excellent source of forage for several reasons. First, oats can be grazed earlier than anything else you plant this spring and are often ready for grazing about a month after planting. Oats grow during cool spring weather when rain is most likely to occur and when soil moisture is used most efficiently to produce forage.

Another advantage of oats for spring pasture is the low cost of seed. Also, oats can be used in several different ways. If the forage isn't needed for grazing, it can be made into hay. Oat hay makes ideal feed for young livestock if it is harvested when the plants just begin to head out. Oats make excellent feed for stock cows and yield will be increased by about one-third if harvested for hay during the milk stage.

If rainfall is adequate and pasture isn't needed in the spring, oats can still be harvested for grain and straw. Oats that are planted under irrigation can be grazed or cut for hay early enough to permit double cropping to soybeans or a summer annual forage crop. Or under this situation they may even be double cropped to corn for silage.

Drill about 3 bushels per acre by late March or early April and oats will be 6 to 8 inches tall and ready to graze in early May. With good soil moisture and 30 to 60 pounds of nitrogen, oats can provide a couple months of grazing for 1 or 2 cows per acre.

For an inexpensive and reliable temporary feed source this year oats may be your best option.

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