Straw shortage presents livestock farmers with challenges

Some livestock farmers are having to look for alternatives to straw as their animals bed overwinter. 

This is the result of a UK-wide straw shortage, which has meant that prices have almost doubled. Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has encouraged farmers of Wales to look at which choices would work based on their own systems. 

“A number of factors, notably a demand for straw from renewable energy plants and bad weather at harvest time, have led prices to rise,” said HCC industry development executive James Ruggeri.

Although some farmers are still using straw, they are having to devise strategies to help keep costs down. “Depending on their systems, some livestock farmers will choose to make more use of slatted housing or leave their animals outside for longer,” Ruggeri continued. “Other strategies include ensuring that buildings are well-ventilated and dry in order to ensure that straw is not wasted. But we’re seeing other farmers looking for alternative bedding materials, all of which have various advantages and drawbacks.”

HCC has previously carried out research into the pros and cons of different bedding options. Summarised in the booklet Alternative Bedding Materials for Beef and Sheep Housing Systems in Wales, farmers can access the advice on HCC’s website and in paper copy on request.

“Barley and wheat straw are hard to beat on most measures, but with costs rising there are alternatives. The key factors when comparing bedding solutions are whether the material keeps animals dry, healthy and comfortable; whether it is easily available and cost-effective; and how effective it is to store and dispose of as compost. Some products also require a waste exemption certificate in order to use them as bedding.

“Woodchip is a material which is very suitable for sheep, but it requires a long period of composting after use. Rape straw and miscanthus are more easily used as compost. Bracken is used by some livestock farmers and has its advantages as a bedding material, but there is evidence that it releases carcinogens.” 

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