Ohio growers this year have planted more oats after wheat and into early harvested corn silage fields. And after late-season rains, the crop is expected to produce "excellent yields," which is a boost to producers suffering through low forage supplies after drought, according to Stan Smith, an Ohio State University Extension beef cattle expert.
Although late rains haven't been abundant, they've provided enough moisture to produce excellent oat yields and quality for many growers throughout the state, Smith says.
That's significant considering that the drought of 2012 has been one of the worst on record in Ohio, leaving many livestock producers hard-hit in their pastures and forages. The lack of substantial rainfall earlier in the growing season, extreme heat and dryness have left many producers short on hay and silage supplies, leaving many at a loss for how to best manage their feed rations, Smith says.
"The oats are very good this year, especially when you consider that the hay harvest was not good for most growers this year because of drought," he says. "Guys were very short on forages, but there were a lot of oats planted around the state, so it'll be a good supplement for low forage supplies."
Many oats were planted this year as an afterthought on unfenced fields in an effort to create any amount of late-growing forage possible, Smith says. He attributes late rains and higher-than-normal temperatures into fall for creating conditions ripe for strong oat yields.
"Certainly we've gotten timely rainfall since oats were planted in early August," Smith says. "Those timely showers and warmer-than-normal temperatures have caused oats to continue growing in many parts of the state even through November.
"Those oats aren't dead yet because it takes a really hard freeze for several hours to kill oats, and we've just not experienced that yet in most parts of the state. Oats will likely remain green and alive for at least a few more weeks. It's been a good year to produce late forages."
Reports across Ohio have indicated that oats are commonly yielding 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre, Smith says. And unless producers are in need of feed immediately, they can continue to let the crops grow a few more weeks.
Smith said the strong yields are "a blessing for producers," considering that this year the hay harvest for most producers was less than 3 tons of dry matter.
"Certainly it will fill in the voids that we have when looking to fill in winter feed supplies," he says. "The drought that hit Ohio hit across the Midwest, so it's not like you can go to a neighboring state to find that extra forage.
"We're getting 3 tons of dry matter in most of these cases out of oats, which will help a bunch. It's really remarkable. In many cases these oats are outperforming our traditional perennial forages because of the way the weather hit."
While strip grazing is the preferred method of harvest, Smith says growers also have other options, including:
* Baling oats. This is a challenge considering that oats dry only about half as fast as grass hay. In some cases, oats take nearly a week after cuting before they are dry enough to properly wet-wrap and ensile. Dropping them on wet soils doesn't enhance the drying or curing process.
* Wet-wrapping. Using an in-line bale wrapper/tuber is less expensive per ton than individually wrapped bales if the equipment is available locally, but unless done properly might result in more storage loss than wet-wrapping individual bales.
* Let the oats stand until they freeze. When a few days of dry frozen weather arrive, mow them, rake them and bale them quickly after they've essentially dried and cured while standing.
* Chopping and ensiling. If grazing standing oats is not an option, chopping and ensiling may be the best alternative that remains for harvest. This offers advantages over baling or wet-wrapping, with the issue of curing the plants for dry harvest becoming a moot point. Chopping and ensiling into either a permanent structure or bags is also likely less expensive than wet-wrapping individual bales.