Cows in barn with bedding© Tim Scrivener

Livestock farmers are being advised to secure straw for winter bedding sooner rather than later, with prices likely to rise by the end of the year.

Philip Judge of bedding supplier Philip Judge International says because of the huge export market to Holland and Ireland in light of Brexit and with a large amount now going into biomass production, prices will not fall back at all this year.

See also: Dry cow bedding options compared

“Road haulage prices are on the rise, which will increase costs. If you want to secure supply it’s better to hedge your bets so at least you know where you are. There’s no point coming to us next April and expecting a deal, as there will be no straw there,” he says.

Straw and wood shaving prices

Straw prices are already up 10% on the year with top-quality barley straw (correct moisture, weight and barn stored) costing £80-85/t delivered and wheat straw costing £70-75/t delivered.

Rape straw is in high demand for horse bedding, meaning there will be little, if any, available for livestock bedding.

Dairy farmers sourcing wood shavings for cubicles will be looking at a cost of £5 a bale for 25kg bales delivered, with bulk options also available.

Bedding options

However, when buying wood bedding products it is important to make sure they are dry and not too coarse.

AHDB Dairy building specialist David Ball says sawdust should be kiln-dried so it does not support bacterial growth and should not be too coarse.

“Coarse sawdust can be abrasive and can cause hair loss and hock lesions on cows. You need a bed to be soft, well cushioned and dry,” he says.

Another option is waste paper products, which work well in slurry systems and can be very absorbent and dry. However, availability can be a problem.

In dairy systems, Mr Ball supports deep bedding as it promotes longer lying times.

“The product of choice in these systems is sand and cubicles can be adapted to take sand, but there can often be a problem with slurry systems,” he says. 

Livestock bedding options compared

 

Cost (delivered) – correct as of 24 October

Absorbency

Benefits

Animal health

Disposal

Straw

£80-85/t (barley straw); £70-75/t (wheat straw)

Moderate

Warm, comfortable bed and palatable

Mould spores can produce dust and cause respiratory issues

Rots down and spreads easily

Wood shavings

£5 for 25kg bale

Moderate

Clean, can be dust free

None if kiln dried and dust extracted

Easily spread to land. Can lock up nitrogen

Sawdust

£170.50/t

Moderate

Comfortable and clean when managed correctly

Mould spores in damp sawdust. Can be dusty

Easily spread to land. Can lock up nitrogen

Sand

£15/t (full artic load)

Low

Hygienic bedding material for cubicles

Coarse sand may be too abrasive

Causes excessive wear on slurry/muck handling equipment and can settle out in slurry systems

Paper products

£5 a bale + VAT for 20kg (based on full artic load)

Low to high depending on product

Liming effect, abundant, cheap depending on product sourced

May cause teat scald using lime ash

May clump and cause difficulty spreading, may increase nitrogen requirement

  • Prices supplied by Philip Judge International, Signfords Ltd, Mid Hants Natural Materials and AW Jenkinson
  • Information from AHDB Bedding Materials Directory