This summer's drought, combined with lagging forage production in the Northeast, has many dairy producers looking at oats as a back-up forage supply. Dry-weather stress has affected much of the Northeast's corn – the chief forage feed for dairy herds, according to Paul Craig of Penn State's Crop Management Extension Group.
Significantly shorter silage corn will greatly affect tonnage. As an emergency forage stretcher, many producers are considering planting oats following silage harvest. Some will be planting oats into cereal crop stubble fields as soon as this week, according Craig.
Summer seeded oats can provide a significant amount of forage dry matter. Expected yields can range from 2 to 6 tons of dry matter per acre depending on variety, seeding rate, fertility and harvest management.
Select tall growing varieties of oats for higher forage production. Usually grain-type oats are used for summer seedings. But recently, taller forage-type oats have been developed and are available from seedsmen.
Since summer isn't the typical oat sowing period supplies of seed oats may be limited. Contact your supplier as soon as possible, they advise.
Seeding rates for summer seedings should be slightly higher, 90 to 100 pounds per acre, with higher rates the later into September that seedings are made. Higher seeding rates result in smaller stem size and can produce more digestible fiber.
Seedings should be completed by mid-September in most areas of Pennsylvania. Harvest will be about 60 to 75 days after seeding.
By staggering seeding dates, harvest management can be more manageable. If August temperatures remain hot and dry, seeding should be delayed.
Sow 1 to 1½ inches deep. No-tilling permits a quicker establishment after silage harvest and minimizes soil moisture losses.
When no-tilling into small grain stubble fields, it's important to create a weed-free seedbed at planting. Following corn silage, be sure to consider the risk from any herbicide residues from corn herbicides.
Fertility is important to producing high yields. Following silage or small grain harvest, nutrient levels will be low. Adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will be needed for optimum production.
Apply 40 to 80 pounds of N for best growth. Most nutrient needs can be met by applications of manure. For late seedings after silage harvest, seeding oats first and applying manure second is more practical.
Highest-quality oatlage is harvested at the boot stage. Because of shorter days and cooler temperatures, onset of head emergence won't be as rapid as spring time. But you'll still need to be prepared for timely harvest. Like other small grain silages digestibility of oatlage drops after seed heads emerge.
Hollow stems of small grain silages require a slightly shorter length of cut (3/8 inch) for optimum packing in the silo. Dry matter content at ensiling should be 32 to 35%.
Use of an inoculant for grass-type forage crops is recommended. That's because populations of naturally occurring bacteria on the crop will be significantly lower during the fall harvest window.
And, colder air temperatures at harvest and in the silage mass will result in a slower and longer fermentation period. The risk of high nitrates in this crop is minimal as nitrates will be reduced by 40 to 60% during fermentation. Due to variable nutrient content of the crop, make certain these forages are analyzed.