Chips off the old block

Woodchip bedding has potential to provide an alternative to straw, with some signs of health and welfare benefits to animals, according to early findings released by HCC.

However, initial costings suggest the woodchip alternative is more expensive than straw and savings will need to be found to bring it within the reach of the majority of Welsh farms.

"The first housing period of the Woodchip for Livestock Bedding Project found quantity savings in chip could be made, if woodchip moisture levels were kept at an optimum," said Lynfa Davies, HCC's project co-ordinator.

"There are also some possible health plusses, such as cattle and sheep on test had drier feet and there were few cases of lameness. It is possible that by focussing on recycling and managing composting properly, woodchipping could provide environmental benefits. This is something that HCC will look into, alongside price sensitivity, within the next 18 months of the project," she said.

"Woodchip remains a more expensive option than straw at the current price, but, as straw prices continue to rise with increased haulage costs, woodchip may become more viable. Wood sourced on farm may prove more cost

effective as only handling and chipping costs would be incurred. The next stage of the project intends to investigate this aspect," she said.

Both cattle and sheep were housed for eight weeks at three development sites to begin with, which seeks to demonstrate the use of woodchip as an indoor bedding material. The

Agriculture Development and Advisory Service (ADAS)

Pwllpeiran monitored the

effect of moisture content of the woodchip on its subsequent performance as a bedding material. The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) concentrated on the effect of different feeding systems and Glynllifon College, Gwynedd demonstrated the potential of different species of wood.

The project is funded through Farming Connect by Objective 1 monies, the Welsh Assembly, the Forestry Commission Wales and the Environment Agency Wales.

The University of Wales, Bangor are also involved in the project to investigate the potential of composting the used bedding material. Their work will focus on the nutrient value of the compost and its use either as farmyard manure or as a higher-value product for the horticultural industry.

Moisture content of the material had the greatest effect on the performance of the woodchip. Target moisture levels of 20-30% were achieved by felling the wood early enough to allow it to dry and through correct storage of the woodchip. Having moisture levels of 50-60% (unseasoned wood) dramatically increased the amount of woodchip required.

The health and cleanliness of the animals housed on woodchip was of a very high standard. Generally it was reported that feet were drier with few cases of lameness. The cleanliness of the animals was assessed using the Meat Hygiene Service Cleanliness Scoring system. Overall the animals remained very clean and, unlike straw, the woodchip bedding didn't stick to animals.

Wood species had little effect, offering a use for any surplus or fallen wood on farms. As expected, animals receiving a wetter silage diet in comparison to a dry hay diet used greater amounts of woodchip. This was also influenced by the moisture content of the woodchip in this demonstration, which was approximately 50% moisture, and therefore had a limited capacity to absorb the wet faeces produced by animals on the wetter silage diet.

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