28 July 1995

Straw can fill forage hungry gap

By Jessica Buss

POOR grass growth has led to a shortage of grazing and clamped silage in many parts of the country, and producers are advised to consider straw as gut-fill for stock

Ken Fletcher, trading manager of Cargills, claims new orders for brewers grains and Tunnelgold may not be filled until September. Although some vegetable or pea waste may provide an alternative forage over the next four weeks, he says straw may be the best option available.

Ammonia treated wheat straw offers a cost effective forage replacer and is more palatable than untreated straw, claims Ken Jordan, director of Suffolk-based Mill Feed Anglia.

He claims wheat straw purchased at £50/t and treated at a cost £21/t is better value for money than buying hay at £100/t.

"Treated wheat or barley straw has a feed value comparable to medium quality hay," he says. "It is a complete feed for spring calving sucklers and up to 6kg/day can be fed to dairy replacements."

For milking cows untreated barley straw can be fed up to a maximum of 4kg of dry matter a day providing the ration is balanced, advises Luppo Diepenbroek of south-west based co-op Mole Valley Farmers. The amount of straw to be fed would depend on cow condition.

With fresh calvers the high fibre level in straw meant it was digested slowly, so filling the rumen and restricting feed intakes.

"It is very difficult to get fresh calved cows to peak yield when fed straw," says Mr Diepenbroek. "Dry matter (DM) intakes need to be maximised and every 1kg DM of straw fed to early lactation cows reduces peak yield by a litre."

He recommends that when bulk is needed in the diet, untreated barley straw can replace forage if it is mixed with maize gluten and fed in troughs or along a feed fence.

"To replace 1kg DM of silage feed 0.5kg DM barley straw and 0.5kg DM maize gluten," he says.

Maize gluten enables the ration to be balanced with only one other product and it is the cheapest protein and energy source available, he claims.

It was possible to enhance intakes of straw by adding molasses, when it was already available on the farm, but the improvement was expensive.

For dairy cows ammonia-treated straw is valuable as a forage replacer and can be fed to a maximum of 5kg DM a cow a day. However, soda-straw was of less benefit as a forage alternative and only 3kg DM a cow a day can be fed, says Mr Diepenbroek.

"But both ammonia-treated and soda-straw would provide more digestible fibre which increased milk butterfat," he says.

Caustic treated straw was good to balance acidic silages, and fed at a rate of 2kg a cow a day, it encouraged alkaline fermentation in the rumen. But restriction on the quantity fed meant it would not compensate for a shortage of bulk in the diet.

He said it was possible to feed dry cows on a 100% straw diet depending on body condition.

Dr Stuart Marsden of Dalgety Agriculture advocates whole-crop cereals to make up forage shortages. There is still time to harvest wheat crops as whole-crop forage or to buy standing crops for forage harvesting and treating with urea, he says. (See Livestock June 9, p47 for further details).