Spring oats (not winter oats) may provide a fairly quick spring forage crop. Other forage management options to improve spring pastures include improved grazing, fertility management, weed control, and deferred grazing to allow other winter-damaged fields to recover.
Spring oats are an option where no winter annuals were planted in fall. Planting winter oats or winter wheat this late may not be a good option. These forages require a short-day, cold temperature stimulus called vernalization to produce a seedstalk and seedhead. Late planted winter wheat and oats may not become properly vernalized and would produce low yield. Spring oats can produce a good forage crop, but must be planted early.
The recommended timeframe for planting is mid-February to mid-March. Seeding rate is a minimum of two bushels per acre up to three bushels per acre. That is a rate of 64-96 lbs/acre. Seed of spring oats is available through several seed distributors in Missouri that supply agricultural dealers in Arkansas (Green Seed in Springfield and Missouri Southern Seed in Rolla are two examples). Varieties of spring oats include Jerry, Legett, Ogle, and Horsepower.
Do not plant “feed oats” because the seed quality is unknown and there is a high likelihood of the seed being winter oats. Seed should be planted like wheat. It can be drilled or broadcast on a tilled seedbed. Forage growth development will be faster on a tilled seedbed than when no-till drilled into sod. Plant ½ to 1 inch deep. Apply 50-60 lbs/acre N at planting. Forage yield of well-established stands will average 2,000 to 3,000 lbs/acre of dry matter.
Earlier planted stands have a greater yield potential than late planted stands. Oats mature rapidly when spring temperatures begin warming. Grazing can begin when the forage is 8-10 inches tall. It is important to not begin grazing until the stems begin to elongate (similar to 1st hollow stem in wheat).
Hay should be harvested when the plants reach the early head stage. There is no appreciable increase in dry matter after that point, but forage quality drops rapidly as the crop becomes more mature. Waiting until the early dough stage results in low quality forage and will increase rodent damage in stored hay.
Source: John Jennings, Professor – Extension Forages