Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quacker Oats We Are Not


We recently grew some.

And then we harvested it and stored it in a plastic bag.

A really big plastic bag.

No, not the oat kernel as that would be grain and we don't feed grain to our bovines. I'm speaking of oat forage or the actual oat plant before it goes to seed. The process of harvesting our oat plants and making oatlage was not quick and fast, and it involved several other people, as we do not intend to "feed the world" with our crop, only our own cows.

The process went something like this.

Oat plants after being cut, chopped and collected.

First we ran hogs on this strip of pasture for over a year, one Red Wattle boar and various girlfriends who came and went as they got themselves in the family way and needed to be shipped to appropriate maternity homes. (Just across the lane, we are in fact supportive of unwed pigs on this farm.)

Then that naturally fertilized plot was planted with organic oat seed and through the wonderful extra rains we got this spring, it grew. A man was hired to cut the oats and another to come back the next day to chop it. Another man was hired to collect the cut up hay from the wagons and bring it to yet another man in another tractor who would blow it into the big glad bag.

Which to my nursing brain looks just like a huge anemic large colon lounging in our yard.

But that's just me.

The end of the bag is rolled up and sealed by weighing it down with a couple tractor bucket loads of limestone. Then the magic begins. The moisture in the plants coupled with the internal heat and the naturally occurring bacteria causes fermentation of the oats. It can be fed to cattle within two weeks of harvest, and provides an additional energy source and variety for our 100% grass aka forage fed cattle. Cows really love the taste as it's not as dry as hay which can get a little dull in the winter.

If the bag is not disrupted the oatlage can keep up to two years but once opened you have to dig out 6-10 inches a day x 6 foot tall (or about 1000 pounds at a time) to keep ahead of the spoilage that can occur once the oatlage is exposed to oxygen. The warmer it is when you are feeding it the quicker it can spoil which is why we have no plans to dip into our own bag o'oats until October.

Special thanks to Duane Dassow and the Schaffer men for all their help!


  1. I've always wondered about the silage process (or oatlage, in your case). I remember going past a huge tube like that and the smell was kina'd nice....almost a sweet rotted smell? Can that be nice?!

  2. They still use the old method here. Dump it on the ground, roll over it with tractors for an hour or two, cover with plastic sheeting, and weigh down with old car tyres. Smells divine!

  3. WE had a disaster one year, the guy we contracted to provide the sprays forgot one of them and the contractor didn't notice. Chickweed grew and grew and grew through the barley. We ended up having to cut it early and just keep it as feed rather than supplying it to the merchant and getting grain back. It wasn't a great feed but that's because of the weed and the timing. To say we were a tad annoyed is putting it mildly but the farmer was calmer than I was with the contractor who forgot!
    Ours went in a silo pit but yep, same method of preservation I guess.