Grazing Oats Through the Winter – The Conclusion

Stan Smith,OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

Conceivably, the most famous oats field in recent Ohio history netted over $100 per acre to it’s owners, and never saw a combine! Yes, we are still responding to inquiries regarding this past winter’s oat grazing project at the Wolfinger’s, here in Fairfield County. You recall that two bushels of bin run oats were no-til seeded into a harvested 30 acre wheat field on August 5, 2002. Immediately ahead of the grain drill, 100 pounds of urea was spread as a source of nitrogen. On November 8, the Wolfingers began to strip graze 44 bred cows and one mature bull on the oats that had grown to an average height exceeding 30 inches, and possessed an estimated dry matter yield of five tons per acre.

Forty five cattle were offered approximately 8 foot by 950 foot strips of the oats once a day, plus low quality hay in a round bale feeder. It was calculated these strips of oats yielded the equivalent of approximately 40 pounds of dry matter per head per day, of which the cattle were consuming all but about 6 inches of the stubble. At the same time they were also consuming less than a large round bale of hay per week in addition to the oats. This 30 acre field of oats did, indeed maintain these 45 cattle for 4 months!

In fact, strip grazing continued daily until mid February when 20+ inches of snow, prevented the opportunity for the cattle to effectively graze the oats field, and the cattle were placed on a ration of hay. After about 3 weeks of additional snowfall, thawing, refreezing, rain, and more refreezing, strip grazing of the remaining oats resumed on March 6 and continued until the oats were completely harvested 3 weeks later. By this time, the first cows were already calving. Quality of the forage remained good right up until the end, despite the difficult weather conditions experienced over much of Ohio this past winter. Throughout the grazing period, the nutrient analysis of the consumed oats as compared to a local stock piled fescue field looked like this:

% crude protein

% Dig. Org Mat.

% free Nitrogen

% free Phosphorus

Sample Date Oats Fescue * Oats Fescue * Oats Fescue * Oats Fescue *
11/19/02 18.13 8.65 64.24 60.56 1.91 1.43 0.53 0.34
12/31/02 14.73 11.4 63.49 60.11 2.00 1.60 0.38 0.31
1/23/03 13.35 9.22 64.34 58.52 1.49 1.23 0.35 0.32
3/11/03 11.12 8.19 60.08 60.36 1.52 1.21 0.32 0.37

( * The stockpiled fescue sampled above had not received supplemental nitrogen in 2002)

Total cost of production for seed, fertilizer, and planting amounted to approximately $30 per acre. Prior to assigning a cost for land, and the labor of moving the fence, costs per head per day amounted to only 20 cents! By comparison, consider what it would have cost to feed hay all winter.

We estimate it would have cost ~ 80 cents/head/day to feed hay to the same group of cattle. This calculation is based on the fact that when the snow got too deep to graze, and then melted and iced over from February 17-March 5, the Wolfinger’s had to feed hay. The volume of hay they fed at that time was extrapolated out to estimate they saved 150 bales of hay over the entire 120 days grazing period, weighing an average of 1500 pounds each. The hay for this example was valued at $50/ton (probably undervalued considering the short supplies of Ohio hay in 2002/03).

In summary, at a savings of 60 cents/head per day multiplied times 120 days, the savings for the 120 day winter grazing period was $72 per cow, or a total of $3240 net savings on 45 cattle. This savings spread over 30 acres equals additional profit of $108/acre for the acres that these oats were grown on.