A group of four farmers from the west of Scotland is trialling different kinds of woodchip as an alternative to straw for livestock bedding.
The group will work with a scientist to assess the impact of the various materials on their soils.
The Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group, co-ordinated by Fergus Younger of Scotland’s Agricultural Organisation Society, has been awarded £30,000 of Scottish Government funding to trial spruce sawdust, hardwood chip, spruce chip and mixed hardwood/softwood chip as bedding for both sheep and cattle.
Soil scientist Audrey Litterick, of Earthcare International, will conduct soil testing to assess the environmental impact of spreading the resulting woodchip and muck on fields.
Sheep and beef farmer Duncan Macalister, of Glenbarr Farms, Kintyre, has been using sawdust instead of straw for five years, and says he is spending about half the money for a better result.
He says: “Straw costs between £140 and £200 per tonne and sawdust £78-£80/t. I used 125t of sawdust last year, so you do the maths.
“The other good thing is sawdust is antiseptic, so we have seen better health in both the sheep and cattle.
“If you keep fat lambs in a shed, after four weeks in straw, half of them are lame. In the sawdust, foot problems are dramatically reduced; we had hardly any at all.
“The cattle stay cleaner too. We calved in sawdust last year and we will do it again; we had no issues with navels.
“But what we do not know is what it is doing to my land, and that is what we are testing for.”
Neil Donaldson, who runs the Argyll Small Woods Co-op, helped bring the group together and sees another value to the trial.
He says: “Green wood fines for bedding could be a destination for low value timber on farms.
“A lot of west coast land is marginal, and this could be a way for farmers to save money and use local resources. But you cannot just say ‘this is a good idea’, you have to test it scientifically.”
The other farmers involved are: Calum Leitch of Kilcreggan, Loch Awe, trialling hardwood chip with sheep and cattle; Rab Smith, from Coillie Farm, Islay, trialling Spruce woodchip for sheep; and John Filshie of Lyleston Farm, Cardross, who is trialling softwood/hardwood green chip with cattle.
RISS lead David Michie, of Soil Association Scotland, says: “RISS provided the framework to get this group together and put together a project plan.”
He says the project is a win-win and should increase profitability, while benefiting the environment.
He says: “It should encourage the planting and managing of trees on farms, which helps store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”