Experts are predicting there could be a shortage of straw going in to winter, despite cereal growers making more straw available to livestock farmers.
Dr Liz Genever, AHDB senior scientist, says lower yields in cereal crops and an increased need to use straw as feed will have an impact on availability and it is important to start planning ahead now.
“The way farmers deal with the lack of straw will vary depending on their individual circumstances but the main principle for everyone will be to reduce the amount of straw needed in the coming months.”
She says this can be achieved in a number of ways, including the culling of unproductive animals, targeted feeding of the straw, a look at straw alternatives and taking care when using the straw as bedding.
Additionally, she says it is worthwhile investigating the availability of alternative products, but it is also important to check with the buyer of your stock to make sure it does not affect farm assurance or waste regulations.
When considering straw to feed, Dr Genever says it is important to identify which is the ‘best straw’ and what is not.
She says: “For beef cattle, consider using the outer layer of bales stored outside for bedding, provided it is free from mould, rather than contaminating feed trough contents. Avoid feeding any forage, including straw which shows any signs of mould as this indicates there could be mycotoxin contamination.
“When formulating a ration, make sure it is balanced and take into account the nutrient composition of feeds and forages as well as the availability of ration components. Group stock according to their nutritional requirements to make it easier to allocate feed resources. Making sure feed troughs are clean and feed is fresh will also minimise wastage.”
Particularly in the case of beef cattle, it is worth calculating the value of feeding additional concentrates to reduce forage requirements. In cattle this is often cost-effective because, although feed cost increases per day, it can reduce cost per kilo gain as well as time on-farm.
When minimising straw use for bedding, Dr Genever says it is important to make sure buildings are well ventilated and there are no leaks from water troughs, guttering, downpipes or the roof.
“Good ventilation helps stock stay healthy during housing and removes damp air which will keep the bedding as dry as possible. To help keep straw drier you can also consider using courser material, such as oilseed rape straw or sand, to act as drainage layer under straw bedding.”