Great Plains livestock producers whose hayfields and pastures have been hurt by dry weather in recent years may want to consider planting oats this spring, says a Kansas State University extension agronomist.

"Recent winter precipitation provides an opportunity for producers who need a quick supply of forage from spring pasture, silage, or high-quality hay for next fall and winter," says Vic Martin. "Spring oats may be an option for producers in this situation."

While best-suited for hay or silage, oats can also provide high-quality pasture in April and May, until other grazing sites are available, says Martin, a grazing systems specialist at Kansas State University's South Central Experiment Field in Hutchinson.

He offers these production tips:

· Treat oat pasture as you would winter wheat pasture when determining stocking rates and when to place cattle in terms of vegetative growth.

· Grain production is not recommended under grazing oats, so the length of pasture production will depend on stocking rate and weather.

· Oats should be harvested for silage from late milk through early dough stages. Expect silage that tests about 60% TDN and 9% protein on a dry basis.

· Oats should be harvested for hay in the late boot to early heading stage. Harvested at the soft dough stage, hay should have an approximate TDN of 56% with 10% protein. A nitrate test is recommended when harvesting oats for hay.

· Before planting oats, check previous herbicide applications on the field. Oats are especially sensitive to triazine herbicides.

· Seed at a rate of 2 bu/acre when planting for pasture, although under good soil conditions, 3 bu/acre may be preferable.

· When oats are grown for hay or silage, fertility recommendations are similar to those for grain production -- 75-125 lbs of nitrogen per acre. But when they're planted for grazing, an additional 30 lbs/acre of nitrogen are recommended.

"Oats may be successfully planted no-till," Martin says. "However, growth and vigor are typically greater where pre-plant tillage is used."

In either case, a fine, firm seedbed is necessary for optimal production and winter annual weeds should be controlled either with tillage or with a burn-down herbicide prior to planting.

"Herbicides are available, although many are not permitted under forage production," he adds. "Before using any herbicides, producers should always check the label."