It’s not often we talk about forage shortages and above normal precipitation in the same breath. Regardless, that’s exactly where we are now throughout Ohio. Over the past year while abundant rainfall may have allowed us to grow lots of forage, unfortunately, it seems the weather has seldom allowed us to harvest it as high-quality feed.
Since last fall the demand for quality forages has been on the increase. It began with a wet fall that forced us from pasture fields early. Followed by constantly muddy conditions, cattle were requiring more feed and energy than normal. At the same time, even though temperatures were moderate during much of the fall of 2018, cows with a constantly wet hair coat were, yet again, expending more energy than normal to remain in their comfort zone. Then, as a cold late January 2019 evolved into February, in many cases mud had matted down the winter coats of cattle reducing their hair’s insulating properties, thus causing them to require even more energy in the cold weather.
Reduced supplies of quality forages coupled with increased demand over the past year have led us to a perfect storm that’s resulted in the lowest inventory of hay in Ohio since the 2012 drought, and the 4th lowest in 70 years. The spring of 2019 weather didn’t provide the opportunity to improve that situation. Today, many cattlemen throughout the Midwest border on having a forage and feed crisis.
While it behooves us each to examine our herds and decide if there are some ‘open’ freeloaders that could be eliminated, this year we have still opportunities to grow more feed.
With many fields remaining unplanted due to the inability to complete spring corn or soybean plantings, annual forages such as oats can still be planted. Oats planted in July or early August can yield from 2 to 5 tons of dry matter yet this calendar year that could then be harvested as either feed or bedding. Prior to seeding at a rate of 80 to 100 pounds of seed, weeds should be controlled. Thirty to fifty pounds of nitrogen will cost effectively boost yields.
With seed in short supply this time of year, there are some options on oats as far as what to plant. The alternatives include forage type oats that are bred specifically for forage production, bin run oats that may be harvested locally or around Ohio yet this summer, or feed oats that are likely shipped in from Canada and used in many of our livestock rations at co-ops all around the state. Depending on your goal, all three sources of seed will work.
If high quality hay is your goal, forage seed oats will be more expensive, but are likely the best option, as nutrient levels tend to be higher given the later maturity of the plant and the lower likelihood of the plant trying to form a seed head. Fungus issues in the form of rust are about the only major issue we see in any type of oats seeded for forage, but the varieties bred for forage production are generally less susceptible, helping keep these more palatable as hay. If you plan to use this option, contact your seed dealers ASAP to check on availability.
If you’re simply looking for the cheapest and easiest source of seed, and are not as concerned about germination, seed quality, or foreign material in your seed, then locally produced oats are your best option. Be aware that many oats were planted late this year, may not yield as much as needed, and likely will have significant weed seed in them at harvest. Having them cleaned would be a must.
The third option of utilizing feed grade oats as seed is likely the most realistic and economical option this year. First off, most feed oats have come from Canada, where production has not been an issue. To this point we’ve not talked to any co-op or feed mill that has any indication of a tightening supply or major cost increase. Feed oats are usually triple cleaned to provide horse quality feed, so weed seeds should not be present, and you can likely buy these in bulk from your local co-op for $15-22/hundred weight.
With the recent announcement by USDA’s Risk Management Agency to move the earliest date for haying and grazing of forages from November 1 to September 1, and to also allow chopping for silage, haylage, and baleage under RMA’s prevented planting provisions, an opportunity exists to harvest the oats and follow them with yet another forage planting that could then be harvested in Spring 2020.
If the need for additional forage is expected to continue into next spring, either biennials such as Italian ryegrass or cereal rye, or perhaps a permanent seeding, can be planted into any fields that are still vacant in August, or that perhaps become available after September 1. Italian ryegrass or cereal rye will grow modestly yet this fall and could be grazed, but abundant growth will happen in the spring that could be harvested as high-quality hay or silage in mid-May before the field is then planted into another crop such as corn or soybeans. If the permanent seeding is preferred, August provides that opportunity on available fields.
The reality is, the inventory of quality forages across Ohio is very short, and we’ll all agree it’s impossible to starve a profit into a cow. Today, time remains to explore some creative ways to increase feed supply before winter!