Oat harvest management considerations

By Stan Smith, Fairfield County Extension

With abundant and frequent rainfall over much of the State in recent weeks, vegetative growth of the oats planted this summer has been nothing short of remarkable. Considering the number of Ohio’s unplanted row crop acres which are presently standing in oats, there have been a number of questions and recent conversations regarding the post-November 1 harvest alternatives for this forage crop.

As oat harvest options are considered, grazing easily provides the most effective and affordable alternative. In 2002, locally the Wolfingers strip grazed oats all winter and actually began the calving season on them before the oats ran out in mid March.

Baling oats in the fall has been done around Ohio, but it’s a challenge considering that oats only dry about half as fast a grass hay. Cut in November, it would typically mean at least two weeks or more to cure them. Wet wrapping them is an expensive alternative. Using an in-line bale wrapper/tuber may be a little less expensive per ton than individually wrapped bales if the equipment is available locally.

Oats won’t die until temperatures have been in the mid 20’s for several hours. That means they’ll still be green and alive in December most years in Ohio. When they finally freeze, and if it’s not a wet winter, growers may be able to let them dry out standing, get a few days of dry frozen weather in January, mow them, rake them and bale them quickly after they’ve essentially dried and cured standing.

In Canada, growers have sprayed their oats with glyphosate and let them dry down while still standing. After a few weeks and at a time when a dry week of weather might appear, they mow, rake and bale the oats all in a day or two. Locally, that’s been done once which allowed the oats to be baled in late December and January.

If grazing standing oats after November 1 is not an opportunity, perhaps chopping and ensiling them is the best alternative for harvest. This offers several advantages over baling or wet wrapping. Obviously the issue of curing the plants for dry harvest becomes a moot point. Chopping and ensiling into either a permanent structure or bags is also likely less expensive than wet wrapping individual bales. Perhaps even better, as detailed by Francis Fluharty several times, chopped forages are 30% more digestible than long stem forages. For a refresher on that subject, review this article from a few years ago:http://beef.osu.edu/beef/beefFeby6.html#linka

Admittedly chopping and ensiling is likely more expensive than rolling dry hay, but when you consider you get essentially no storage losses, the timeliness of harvest which is afforded, and the more digestible feed which results, it’s a good alternative. And if you’re able to bunk feed the chopped and ensiled oats, there will be no “bale ring” feeding losses to be experienced.

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