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Grazing oat pastures

I have a friend who plants a small patch of oats at the farm to harvest for grain and straw bedding. He doesn’t graze it, but he could if the pasture wasn't coming in.

Vic Martin is an ag instructor at Barton County Community College in Kansas. He says oats are best suited for hay or silage, but can also provide a quick, high-quality food source for cattle, sheep, and horses. Once planted, oats are ready for grazing in 4-5 weeks under good growing conditions.

"Let it get about 6-7 inches of good growth on it, it starts to tiller out, and you go out and tug on it, make sure that  it's well-rooted so it's not going to come out easily, and then you can turn them out," says Martin. "You want to graze them rapidly enough that you don't let it start to get more stemmy and you don't want to graze it so hard that you kind of kill the plant back. That's something you have to keep an eye on." 

Martin says a good way to manage an oat pasture is to divide it up into paddocks. Graze one section hard until the plants are down to about two-inches, then move the animals to the next paddock.

Oats have a high nutritional value and you can graze it according to your needs.

"This is 8-9% protein, 55-60% total digestable nutrients. They don't need to be on it all day.  You can turn them out for awhile and then bring them in, or turn them out and bring them to an adjacent pasture," he says. "So there's a whole variety of things, depending on how much labor and time that whoever's doing this wants to put into it."

Oats are often used as a companion crop when producers are starting alfalfa fields. When they take the first cutting, high-quality oats are in it, too.

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