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Fall-grown oat to extend the fall grazing season for replacement dairy heifers1

Coblentz, W.K., Brink, G.E., Hoffman, P.C., Esser, N.M., Bertram, M.G.
Journal of dairy science 2014 v.97 no.3 pp. 1645
Avena sativa, Holstein, autumn, canopy, carbohydrates, climatic factors, cultivars, dairy heifers, energy, energy density, forage, grazing, oats, pastures, weight gain
Our objective was to assess the pasture productivity and forage characteristics of 2 fall-grown oat (Avena sativa L.) cultivars, specifically for extending the grazing season and reducing reliance on harvested forages by replacement dairy heifers. A total of 160 gravid Holstein heifers (80 heifers/yr) were stratified by weight, and assigned to 1 of 10 identical research pens (8 heifers/pen). Initial body weights were 480±43.5kg in 2011 and 509±39.4kg in 2012. During both years of the trial, four 1.0-ha pasture replicates were seeded in August with Ogle oat (Schumitsch Seed Inc., Antigo, WI), and 4 separate, but similarly configured, pasture replicates were seeded with Forage Plus oat (Kratz Farms, Slinger, WI). Heifer groups were maintained as units, assigned to specific pastures, and then allowed to graze fall-oat pastures for 6h daily before returning to the barn, where they were offered a forage-based basal total mixed ration. Two heifer groups were retained in confinement (without grazing) as controls and offered the identical total mixed ration as pasture groups. During 2011, available forage mass increased with strong linear and quadratic effects for both cultivars, peaking at almost 9Mg/ha on October 31. In contrast, forage mass was not affected by evaluation date in 2012, remaining ≤2,639kg/ha across all dates because of droughty climatic conditions. During 2012, Ogle exhibited greater forage mass than Forage Plus across all sampling dates (2,678 vs. 1,856kg/ha), largely because of its more rapid maturation rate and greater canopy height. Estimates of energy density for oat forage ranged from 59.6 to 69.1% during 2011, and ranged narrowly from 68.4 to 70.4% during 2012. For 2011, responses for both cultivars had strong quadratic character, in which the most energy-dense forages occurred in mid November, largely due to accumulation of water-soluble carbohydrates that reached maximum concentrations of 18.2 and 15.1% for Forage Plus and Ogle, respectively. Across the 2-yr trial, average daily gain for grazing heifer groups tended to be greater than heifers remaining in confinement (0.85 vs. 0.74kg/d), but both management strategies produced weight gains within reasonable proximity to normal targets for heifers in this weight range. Fall-grown oat should be managed as stockpiled forage for deferred grazing, and good utilization of fall-oat forage can be accomplished by a one-time removal of standing forage, facilitated by a single lead wire advanced daily to prevent waste.