Oats planted since wheat harvest across much of Ohio are off to a great start. With the ample rainfall and below normal temperatures which much of Ohio has experienced this summer, stands are near perfect and growing aggressively. The only challenge we're finding is that the weather conditions have allowed rust to flourish some fields. Regardless, the most asked question we've received in recent weeks is, "What's the most efficient way of grazing oats . . . is it one time later this fall, or multiple "strip grazed" times throughout the balance of summer, fall, and winter, and, how soon can I start?"

While we have limited data from past years to support it, our observations suggest that we experience by far the most total tonnage from oats when they are only grazed one time after they reach about 75+/- days of age from planting. It appears once they reach 24-30 inches tall (~ 50 days post planting) their total tonnage may double over the following 20-30 days. In the past, quality has remained high until the oats are at least 60-75 days into their growth. Unless one must harvest earlier due to lack of any other feed, or possibly in a grass based dairy situation where quality may be most important, the benefits of the abundant tonnage from a single harvest at 75+/- days seem to far out weigh the benefits of a little extra quality gained by strip grazing oats multiple times throughout the balance of the year.

If one prefers to graze or harvest multiple times, Bob Hendershot, NRCS Grasslands Conservationist, suggests that beginning to graze at about the 6 leaf stage is likely best. Regardless if the plan is to graze once, or multiple times, strip grazing will certainly optimize consumption of the available tonnage.

We've heard several times from producers who's oats are "down the road" and thus will need to be mechanically harvested. What's the best way? This answer gets a bit more complicated.

Oat hay is slow to dry, and it's never easy to try to "dry bale" forages in late September and beyond anyway. Short and cooler days and heavy dew over night causes it to take a week or more before drying of oat hay is complete for baling. Add to that the volume of production we've been experiencing from oats, and it becomes much more challenging than trying to get a heavy first cutting of grass hay cured in early May. If there is a saving grace to baling oats, it's that they retain their quality very well while curing out in the weather.

Given all that, if mechanical harvest is a must, chopping them for ensilage is likely the best choice. If a silo or silage bagger is not available, green chopping and direct feeding them daily is an alternative. Next option one might consider is wet wrapping bales or ensiling them in bale tubes. Another alternative for some might be to mow a two to five day supply, bale them daily, and feed them directly each day. And finally, as an alternative to trying to find a 7+ day window in October to dry bale them, we have had some local producers who waited until a cold dry stretch in late December and January when the oats had died and dried standing, and then mowed and baled them.

Source: Stan Smith, PA, Ohio State University Extension Fairfield County