With high-quality pasture always seemingly in short supply, oats and Italian ryegrass might be the surest way to have the high quality needed by your cattle, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist.

Anderson likes oat forage because it grows during spring, a time when rain is likely and the moisture is used efficiently. In addition, oats can be grazed earlier than anything else planted this spring.

“Once it gets 5-6 in. tall, it quickly can shoot up to 12 in. in almost no time. Unfortunately, once oats gets that tall it may not stool out, tiller and regrow after grazing very well. So it’s important to start grazing early when oats get 6-8 in. tall to stimulate it to form new tillers.”

After this first grazing, Anderson suggests keeping regrowth between 6 and 16 in. tall. Begin with a light stocking rate, about one animal every two acres, then adjust animal numbers as oat growth changes.

“For a longer grazing season, plant a mixture of oats and Italian ryegrass. Oats comes on strong early while Italian ryegrass tends to wait until June before it grows rapidly. Then it just keeps growing high-quality leaves the rest of the year if moisture is available,” he says.

For straight oats, Anderson suggests drilling at least 3 bu./acre as soon as possible and oats will be 6-8 in. tall and ready to graze by early May. With good moisture and 40-60 lbs. of nitrogen, oats can provide a couple months of grazing for up to two cows per acre.

“For extended grazing, drill just a couple of bushels of oats, plus around 20 lbs. of Italian ryegrass/acre. Your stocking rate might need to be a little lighter at first, but with some timely moisture you can continue to get great grass all summer and fall,” Anderson says.
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska forage specialist