When wheat pasture fails due to drought, there are limited opportunities to recover lost forage production. Spring-planted oat is the best option to offset forage losses from wheat pasture and has been a “go to” forage crop in this case for southern Great Plains beef producers for years. The window for spring-planted oat is between February 15 and March 10. Forage production potential is around 1,500 to 2,00 lbs/acre, but you will need about 40 – 60 lbs/acre of nitrogen to make this type of yield. A fact sheet detailing spring oat production for hay and grazing can be found by clicking here or by going to www.wheat.okstate.edu under “Wheat Management” then “Seeding”. Some of the key points from that fact sheet are listed below.
Spring oat can provide an alternative hay or forage source in the spring.
Seed — Plant 80 – 100 lbs/acre of good quality seed that has a germination of no less than 85%. There aren’t many options regarding varieties, so you will likely be limited to whatever seed is available in your area. The key is not to cut back on seeding rate, regardless of variety.
Seedbed — Sow oat seed at approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep. Most producers will be better off with a conventionally-tilled seedbed. You are planting seed at a time of year when the ground is already marginal regarding temperature. Conventionally-tilled seedbeds warm more quickly, which should speed germination. There is one exception to the conventional till recommendation. If you are sowing into a stale seedbed or a failed wheat crop that is very thin, no-till should be okay. Just avoid situations where excessive residue will keep the soil cold.
Grazing — Oat plants should have a minimum of six inches of growth prior to grazing. Unlike fall-seeded cereals, you should not expect a large amount of tillering. A good stand of spring oat can provide a 750 lb animal approximately 60 days of grazing when stocked at 1.5 animals per acre.
Hay — Oat should be cut for hay at early heading to maximize yield and quality.