Red oat grass (Themeda triandra Forssk.) is a tufted perennial grass of highly variable size, 30-180 cm tall with tussocks up to 0.5 m wide (Ecocrop, 2011; FAO, 2011; Liles, 2004). The culms are slender, erect and many-branched (Quattrocchi, 2006). The tussocks may be more or less leafy. The leaves, 10-50 cm long and 2-5 mm wide, are initially green to grey, and become a characteristic orange-brown in summer (Quattrocchi, 2006; Liles, 2004). The inflorescence is a narrow panicle up to 45 cm long that bears several pendulous racemes with large red-brown spikelets. Each raceme is surrounded by a leaf-like spathe (SANBI, 2011). The 4-7 cm long black awns remain with the seed when it falls (Liles, 2004). Red oat grass tends to be shorter and dark purple at higher altitudes and often lighter coloured and flushed only with purple at lower altitudes (SANBI, 2011).
Red oat grass is mainly used as fodder, but the grain can be eaten by people, particularly during times of famine (NRC, 1996). Red oat grass stems and leaves are used for pig bedding, and provide fibres for paper, basketry and thatching (Quattrocchi, 2006). Due to its colour and texture, it is an ornamental species in Australia (SANBI, 2011; Liles, 2004).
Red oat grass is an important grazing grass for domestic livestock and wildlife, and is part of the natural savannah pastures. It is highly palatable to livestock, especially when young (SANBI, 2011; Tothill, 1992). In Australia, it is grazed by kangaroos, rabbits and deer (Cole, 2003). Red oat grass is best grazed when 70% of the grass is green, about six weeks after the grass start its growth, for a 4-week period during short rains and for a 6-week period during the long rains (FAO, 2011).
Red oat grass is susceptible to heavy grazing and it may suffer a greater risk from overgrazing when other species have declined (Tothill, 1992). Reducing stocking rates may not allow Themeda populations to recover fast enough due its palatability (Ash et al., 1998). Rotational grazing is recommended. In southern Africa, an early summer (rather than late summer) rest period gives the highest dry matter and crude protein yields, root growth reserves and flowering culms (FAO, 2011).
Red oat grass cut for hay should be harvested at the end of the growing season. Dry matter yields are usually between 0.5 and 5 t/ha. Frequent cuttings should be avoided since they shorten the life of the stand (Ecocrop, 2011). An eight-week cut provides maximum DM yield, and this cutting interval increases DM yield by 60% compared to a two-week interval (Coughenour et al., 1985).
Red oat grass can be combined with other forage species such as Heteropogon contortus, Digitaria spp., Cymbopogon pospischilii, Dichanthium insculptum and Pennisetum mezianum (Kinyamario et al., 1992; Denny et al., 1980).