Hulless oats as a potential farm-grown feed grain

Hulless oats could provide a nutrient-dense feed grain in northern Michigan areas where corn grain production is not reliable.

About 40,000 acres of oats were harvested in Michigan in 2014. Michigan’s oats are grown for a variety of reasons including feed grain, forage, cover crop and seed production. Oats as a feed grain fill a niche in today’s livestock production systems. Oats have always been a popular grain feed for horses. They are “bulky” and unlikely to cause digestive disturbances. They can be fed to beef and dairy cattle with little processing needed in most cases. Dry rolling or steam rolling increases dry matter intake of oats.

Energy content is lower than other cereal grains due to the presence of the hull, which makes up about 24-30 percent of the kernel weight. Energy content of oats decreases with decreasing test weight because of the greater proportion of hull content as test weight declines. Oats with a standard 32-pound test weight have about 69 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN). Heavy test weight oats of 35 pounds and higher may have 72 percent TDN. Protein content of oats is greater than corn, with a greater proportion of degradable protein. Mineral content is similar to other feed grains.

Hulless, or “naked,” oats lack the hull present on common oats. Oat hulls contain about 30 crude fiber and are low in nutritive value. Without it, the oat grain has a higher percentage of digestible carbohydrate and protein. Conventional hulled oats can be grown successfully even in the coldest, shortest growing season areas of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Michigan State University Extension has published results of oat variety trials conducted at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan, on an annual or bi-annual schedule for many years. However, hulless oats have not been included so far.

A 2013 University of Vermont Oat Variety Trial Report included nine conventional oat varieties and Streaker hulless oats. The hulless variety yielded poorly in comparison to the conventional oats (23 bushels per acre compared to trial average of 55 bushels per acre) and also exhibited a high incidence of lodging. However, they had the highest test weight (37 pounds per bushel compared to trial average of 34 pounds per bushel) and crude protein at 12 percent moisture (12.6 percent compared to trial average of 11.7 percent). Data comparing hulless oats to conventional oats has also been generated by North Dakota State University and other institutions.

Regardless of the lack of locally generated research information, hulless oats are being tried on small acreages on two Upper Peninsula farms. The idea is to produce a high-energy grain to mix with a farm-grown, cold-hardy, high-protein grain such as field peas or sweet white lupines to create a balance hog ration. Home grown grains may result in cost savings compared to trucking in more conventional corn and soybean-based feed products. Although these hulless oat plantings are small (eight acres and one acre) and not set up as research projects, yield checks will be made and samples submitted for feed analysis.

Hulless oats may provide an interesting option for farmers seeking to produce a high quality feed grain in parts of Michigan where corn is not a dependable option. However, crop performance is still undocumented and unproven. These Upper Peninsula plantings provide a “first look” at the crop.

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