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How to harvest oat hay and when to cut it

Updated February 21, 2017

Oat hay is a harvested forage or feed of stalks, leaves and heads from oat crop rather from grass or alfalfa. The oat crop is grown specifically for hay instead of harvested for grain. This oat hay produces a high protein feed suitable for cattle, horses and sheep. The oats are planted in the spring of the year and cut and harvested for hay in the early summer. Farmers can feed the oat hay immediately or store it for winter forage.

Monitor the oat crop for the proper harvest time. Oats yield the best protein content if cut in the boot stage, but it yields more tonnage if harvest is delayed until the flower stage about a week later. The boot stage occurs when you can feel a lump near the end of the stem. This lump will form the head which emerges just before the flower stage.

Cut the oat hay with a windrower or sickle mower. Both of these farm implements will cut the crop adequately, while the windrower deposits the cut oats into a single continuous storage pile along the field. If a mower is used, a farm rake is then employed to form the windrows.

Check the moisture content of the oat hay. Use a hay probe and moisture meter to test moisture, or take a sample to the county extension office. For baled hay the moisture content should be no more than 22 per cent. The oat hay commonly lies in windrows in the field during the drying process.

Bale the hay using a tractor and hay bailer. Hay bailers compress the hay into round or square forms that are wrapped in twine for transportation and storage. Hay bales range from 22.7kg. to more than a ton, depending on the farm equipment. Haul the hay bales to the storage area such as a barn or building, or stack the bales outdoors in a hay yard.

Tip

High protein oat hay, cut during the boot stage, is fed to feeder cattle being fattened for slaughter. The lower protein feeds work best for dairy or breeding cattle operations.

Warning

Oat hay can have dangerous levels of nitrates under certain conditions. These conditions include extreme stress on the oat plant such as hail or drought. Have a laboratory test check the nitrate levels if the growing conditions for the oat crop are questionable.

Things You'll Need

  • Windrower
  • Sickle mower
  • Farm Rake
  • Bailer
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About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.