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Fall grazing tips

Agriculture.com Staff 02/14/2007 @ 12:03pm

Robert Wolfinger and his sons, Jake and Andy, lost 700 acres of rented farmland in recent years to developers and competitive neighboring farmers. The loss of the land left them scrambling to find enough winter feed for 120 beef cows on their 1,100 acres of cropland and 150 acres of pasture.

Fall-planted oats has been the answer. The Wolfingers, who operate farms near Lancaster, Ohio, plant the oats into wheat stubble or fly the seed onto standing corn. After harvest, they graze the oats from late fall through most of the winter. For the past four years, the late oats let them get by with feeding only half of the hay they would otherwise have fed to that part of the herd that was grazing the oats.

"The first year, we planted the oats in a 34-acre field and grazed 45 cows there from mid-November to mid-February," says Robert Wolfinger. "We figured the cost of grazing the oats came to about 20¢ a day per cow."

Right after harvesting winter wheat in mid-August, the Wolfingers no-till drill the oats into the wheat stubble. They use bin-run oats for seed, and they seed at a rate of 2 bushels per acre. They broadcast 50 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen after seeding. Cornfields are custom-seeded to oats by an aerial applicator about the third week in August.

"We have found that oats like fairly dry seeding conditions, and the crop tends to grow best after the weather cools off," says Wolfinger. "The plants get to be 8 to 10 inches tall when we start grazing them."

The oats crop is ready to graze by the end of October or the first of November, even when it's seeded in cornfields. Corn is harvested the first of October, and the oats grow quickly after the corn canopy is removed.

The Wolfingers' grazing strategy is to first put cows to graze in the oats growing in the cornstalks. Near the end of November, they move the cows into the oats seeded in the wheat stubble and are able to graze the oats in those fields until late February.

As a rule of thumb, says Wolfinger, standing green oats yields about 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre and has 18% to 20% protein. It browns down after a killing frost but retains a protein content of 12%.

Robert Wolfinger and his sons, Jake and Andy, lost 700 acres of rented farmland in recent years to developers and competitive neighboring farmers. The loss of the land left them scrambling to find enough winter feed for 120 beef cows on their 1,100 acres of cropland and 150 acres of pasture.

Near Mount Sterling, Illinois, brothers David and Steven Krupps also rely on fall-seeded crops to extend their grazing season and to reduce the amount of hay they feed. For the last three years, rye and turnips have been their crops of choice.

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