Don’t overlook value of straw as a bedding and feeding resource

Straw is a valuable resource for livestock farms due to its important role in bedding and feeding.
This is the message from Dr Mary Vickers of Eblex, who says while straw is low in metabolised energy and crude protein, it is still a useful component of rations.
“Straw provides a rich source of structural fibre, which stimulates rumination and the production of saliva, which helps to buffer rumen acidity,” she says.
Dr Vickers says it is useful for ‘bulking out’ certain rations, and helping to dilute energy and crude protein densities.
“Depending on availability and cost, straw can form the main forage source for dry suckler cows.”
She also says its nutritional value can be improved by treatments such as ammonia or caustic soda. However, she advises seeking the advice of a nutritionist if considering these options as these treatments change the way straw can be fed.
“If harvesting cereals for crimping at around 30 to 40 per cent moisture, the straw will still be green and immature. Baling and wrapping the straw directly behind the combine produces ‘strawlage’, which has good nutritional value and can be used as a sole feed for dry suckler cows or added to other rations to provide structure and additional nutritional fibre.”
Independent consultant David Hendy says haulm from pulses can be fed to animals as an alternative to cereal straw.
“Pea haulm is a useful structural or nutritional component for rations as it has a reasonably high ME (>7MJ/kgDM) and CP (around 10 per cent depending on pea content) compared to cereal straw.”
However, he says palatability can vary depending on harvesting conditions: “In contrast, bean haulm is much less palatable than pea haulm and is not such a valuable addition to the diet.”

Bedding materials

In terms of bedding materials for cattle, Mr Hendy says straw is ideal because it is absorbent, comfortable, safe, clean and can be disposed of easily.
He adds it is important to use dry straw for bedding, as wet straw increases usage considerably. If insufficient straw is available, or its cost is prohibitive, other bedding materials can be used. However, these can differ considerably in their characteristics.
“Pea or bean haulm is a good option for bedding,” says Mr Hendy. “Rape or linseed straw is more coarse and is best used as a free-draining base layer on top of which more absorbent material can be used.”
He says timber products are one of the main alternatives to straw, but should be composted as they can take much longer to break down in FYM heaps.
“There are certain guidelines producers should follow when using timber products: care should be taken to avoid using products from treated wood and if recycled wood is being used, then a waste exemption needs to registered with the Environment Agency. It is important to avoid material contaminated with foreign objects such as glass or metal.”
Wood shavings and sawdust are another bedding option, says Mr Hendy, as they are highly absorbent, although drainage may deteriorate over time so frequent mucking out may be required.
He says woodchips can also be used and work best when they are from dry logs with less than 30 per cent moisture.
“Other options include sand, gypsum and paper products, but producers should do their homework on each option before purchasing to ensure the product will suit their system,” says Mr Hendy.
Bedding manual
Eblex has produced a manual outlining a number of alternative bedding materials, available at


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