2nd September 2011

Livestock Producers Urged to Consider Bedding Alternatives

With farmers considering their winter housing options and the price and availability of straw not looking likely to stabilise, business savvy producers should be looking at the alternatives.

Quality Meat Scotland has produced a revised and updated version of a booklet to help farmers optimise bedding use and consider the wide range of alternative products available to Scottish livestock producers.

The update adds performance results from the use of alternative bedding products on three farms, and also offers advice to pig farmers for the first time.

Bedding cattle on straw is the usual practise in Scotland but availability in some parts of the country is extremely low and the cost of getting straw delivered can be high. Timeliness of harvesting and re-planting has seen a lot of straw being chopped and incorporated into the soil at harvest time and this has led to reduced availability to producers.

Using no bedding or keeping stock in poor conditions could be classed as a welfare issue and could cause a penalty on the Single Farm Payment. It can also reduce animal performance and increase the risk of ill health.

Other products suitable as bedding material are on the market and the new booklet explores these materials and their suitability, lists materials unsuitable for bedding and provides some cost savings from the use of alternatives.

In many circumstances the storage of straw also needs to improve to make the most of the investment, and a section gives useful tips on straw management.

Although this booklet is targeted at the cattle producer, a section has been added for sheep and pigs.

According to Ian Pritchard, SAC Select Services Beef Specialist, who researched the content for the booklet with Dr Basil Lowman and Dr John Vipond, it is well worth farmers putting some thought into how they use bedding most efficiently.

“Some of the tips in the booklet may seem like common sense but too often simple steps which can produce big benefits are overlooked. For example a lot of extra straw is used because of leaking water troughs or guttering,” said Mr Pritchard.

Recent analysis by SAC established that there is a lack of awareness of the suitability of alternative bedding materials which are available to livestock producers and the advantages of their use in many situations.

Better understanding of alternatives and their increased uptake on farms could reduce overheads and lead to a financial benefit.

The QMS booklet also gives advice on how to reduce straw usage by highlighting how different feed materials can affect the amount of dung and urine produced, and it flags up the number of alternative bedding products available in different areas of Scotland.

The range of materials, along with details of their relative absorbency factors, is detailed in the booklet.

“Some of these alternative materials such as oilseed rape straw, sawdust and woodchips have been used for a number of years but in many situations other producers should consider them as potentially replacing straw,” said Mr Pritchard.

The fertiliser values of these alternatives are also listed as a number of these new materials do not compost as easily as straw does. The booklet also highlights the potential drawback of bedding materials that are too palatable to ruminants as this may affect daily liveweight gain.

Copies of the booklet can be downloaded here or hard copies are available free of charge by contacting QMS on 0131 472 4040.

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