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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Avena
A. abyssinica
A. barbata
A. fatua
A. maroccana
A. nuda
A. occidentalis
A. sativa
A. sterilis
A. strigosa
ITIS 41455 2002-09-22

Oats are the fruits of any of several cereal grains, genus Avena. They are used for food and as fodder for animals. Oat straw is also sometimes used as animal feed.

Oats are often served as a porridge made from crushed oats or oatmeal, and are also baked into cookies. As oat flour or oatmeal, they are also used in a variety of other baked goods and cold cereals, and as an ingredient in granola.

Oats are native to Eurasia and appear to have been domesticated relatively late. They are now grown throughout the temperate zones. Like wheat, oats are an annual plant, and can be planted either in the fall (for early summer harvest) or in the spring (for late summer harvest).

Oat bran is the outer casing of the oat. Its consumption is believed to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and possibly to reduce the risk of heart disease. Oats are also a safe grain for people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance).

Oat straw is also used in corn dolly making, and it is the favourite filling for lace-making pillows.


Sow oats in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. An early start is crucial to good yields as oats will go dormant during the summer heat. Oats are cold-tolerant and will be unaffected by late frosts or snow. Sow at about 2 bushels per acre, either broadcast or drilled in 6" rows. Lower rates are used when underseeding with a legume. Somewhat higher rates can be used on the best soils. Excessive sowing rates will lead to problems with lodging and will reduce yields.

Oats remove substantial amounts of nitrogen from the soil. If the straw is removed from the soil rather than being plowed back, there will also be removal of large quantities of potash. Usually 50-100 pounds of N in the form of urea or anhydrous ammonia is sufficient. A sufficient amount of N is particularly important for plant height and hence straw quality and yield. When the prior-year crop was a legume, or where ample manure is applied, N rates can be reduced somewhat.

The vigorous growth habit of oats will tend to choke out most weeds. A few tall broadleaf weeds, such as ragweed and buttonweed (velvetleaf), can be a problem occasionally especially as they complicate harvest. These can be controlled with a modest application of a simple broadleaf herbicide such as 2,4D while the weeds are still small.

Modern harvest technique is a matter of available equipment, local tradition, and priorities. Best yields are attained by swathing--cutting the plants at about 4" above ground and putting them into windrows with the grain all oriented the same way--just before the grain is completely ripe. The windrows are left to dry in the sun for several days before being combined using a dummy head. Then the straw is baled.

Oats can also be left standing until completely ripe and then combined with a grain head. This will lead to greater field losses as the grain falls from the heads, and also to harvesting losses as the grain is threshed out by the reel. Without a draper head, there will also be somewhat more damage to the straw since it will not be properly oriented as it enters the throat of the combine. Overall yield loss is 10-15% compared to proper swathing.

Late 19th and early 20th century harvesting was performed using a binder. Oats were shocked and then collected and run through a stationary threshing machine.

Earlier harvest involved cutting with a scythe or sickle, and threshing under the feet of cattle.

A good yield from a field of oats is typically 100 bushels of grain and 2 tons of straw.