27 July 2001

Pay attention to straw quality

By Richard Allison

PRODUCERS are being urged to pay extra attention to quality when buying straw this summer and to winter storage because of a sharp increase in price.

Independent dairy consultant John Hughes says always use straw containing less than 20% moisture for bedding cattle. Each high yielding dairy cow produces about 80 litres of urine/day, which must be absorbed by bedding.

"Wet straw wont keep livestock dry and clean because its absorbency is reduced."

Mr Hughes recommends buying a moisture meter to check loads of straw as they arrive on farm. One load purchased by a client contained more than one-third water.

"Also use a meter to monitor moisture when buying straw in the swath. Avoid baling until it has dried to less than 20% moisture."

Care is needed when obtaining straw from coastal areas because some is baled overnight trapping moisture from sea mists. Loads transported over distances are also likely to have been rained on when left overnight, he warns.

However, most losses occur during winter storage. Bales should be kept in a dry barn. But when this is not possible due to lack of space, they can be successfully stored outside with minimal losses by following several guidelines, he says.

"Stacks should be situated on a well-drained surface, preferably a shale base with plastic drainage pipes. It should be away from buildings because they prevent wind drying out the stack and water normally collects around buildings."

Make sure stacks have straight sides and place round bales on their ends. Beware that heaps with bulging sides will have more waste.

"However, dont use plastic sheeting on top of straw stacks because birds and the weight of water collecting will tear holes in it. This will act as a funnel causing extensive waste beneath the hole."

Instead, Mr Hughes recommends placing a layer of small straw bales on top. "Replace them each time bales are removed, or use for bedding youngstock."

High quality straw is essential for lactating dairy cows, he adds. Extensive moulding increases cases of environmental mastitis, which is a major cost, so only use mouldy bales for youngstock. &#42

Mastitis conference

This years British Mastitis Conference will focus on managing mastitis with limited antibiotic use, in a new dairy unit and by controlling cell count.

The event – aimed at dairy producers, vets and consultants – will be held at Garstang, Lancs, on Wed, Oct 10.

Registration costs £60 – less than the cost of a single mastitis case – including conference proceedings and a hot lunch. Contact Margaret Carr (01635-577227, fax 01635-577303) for details.

STRAWQUALITY

&#8226 Check moisture content.

&#8226 Avoid sheeting stacks.

&#8226 Stack bales carefully.