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Oat pasture can replace forage in short supply

Drought conditions that stretched through the Plains for
several years cut hay and forage supplies for livestock. A Kansas State
University agronomist says spring oats, managed properly, can help ease the
tension of tight hay supplies. 

"With the conditions of the last several years, many
producers have had problems getting adequate hay and grazing production from
pastures," says K-State Research and Extension agronomist Vic Martin.
"Recent winter precipitation provides an opportunity for producers who
need a quick supply of forage from spring pasture, silage, or high-quality hay
for next fall and winter. Spring oats may be an option for producers in this
situation."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. hay
stocks had dropped to an 18-year low of 96.4 million tons as of December 1,
2006. Stocks fell by eight percent since December 1, 2005.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service rated hay and
forage supplies at 51% very short to short, 48% adequate, and one percent
surplus as of February 4, 2007. Hay was in short supply throughout the state
and feed supplies were short in western and southern areas.

But Martin, who is a grazing systems specialist based at
K-State's South Central Experiment Field in Hutchinson, says that while best
suited for hay or silage, oats can also provide high-quality pasture in April
and May, until other grazing sites are available.

When properly stored, oats can also provide high-quality hay
for next fall and winter.

Martin provided tips for producers who are considering using
oats as pasture:

Treat oat pasture as you would winter wheat pasture when
determining stocking rates and when to place cattle in terms of vegetative
growth.

Grain production is not recommended under grazing oats, so
the length of pasture production will depend on stocking rate and weather.

Oats should be harvested for silage from late milk through
early dough stages. Expect silage with a TDN of about 60%, and 9 percent
protein on a dry basis.

Oats should be harvested for hay in the late boot to early
heading stage. Harvested at the soft dough stage, hay should have an
approximate TDN of 56% with 10% protein, both on a dry basis. A nitrate test is
recommended when harvesting oats for hay.

Before planting oats, check herbicide applications on the
field. Oats are especially sensitive to triazine herbicides.

The optimal planting date varies, depending on the area of
the state. In southeast Kansas, the optimal range is February 20 to March 15,
and in northwest Kansas, March 1 through March 31. The ideal planting date in most
of the rest of the state ranges from late February through mid-March. After the
optimal planting dates, production will typically be limited.

To maximize pasture production potential, plant toward the
early side of the optimal range of planting dates.

Test the soil.

Seed at a rate of two bushels per acre when planting for
pasture, although under good soil conditions, three bushels per acre may be
preferable for grazing.

When grown for hay or silage, fertility recommendations are
similar to those for grain production -- 75 to 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre,
but when planted for grazing, an additional 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen is
recommended.

"Oats may be successfully planted no-till," Martin
says. "However, growth and vigor are typically greater where pre-plant
tillage is used."

In either case, a fine, firm seedbed is necessary for
optimal production and winter annual weeds should be controlled either with
tillage or with a burn-down herbicide prior to planting.

"Herbicides are available, although many are not
permitted under forage production," Martin says. "Before using any
herbicides, producers should always check the label."

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