Straights v blends: Which is the best option for feeding?

Buying a blend has made concentrate feeding simpler and easier on storage. However, in a bid to trim costs, some farmers may be tempted to return to straights as a cheaper option.

Farmers Weekly spoke to nutritionist Charlie Davis of Kelly Farm Consulting to find out if it can really save money.

See also: How Cornish farmer cut feed emissions but maintained output

What should farmers think about if they decide it is cheaper to buy straights, rather than a blend?

The main considerations are:

  • Storage
  • Ensuring the saving is sufficient to justify the swap
  • Time factors
  • Market conditions.

Are there any common misconceptions about straights being cheap and easy to use?

Over the past couple of years, we have certainly found buying straights more challenging, given the volatile markets.

For farmers hoping to swap from, say, a three-ingredient blend to using three straights, they must buy those three products very well to maintain margins.

But there is also three times the chance of getting the markets wrong. Savings could be wiped out quite easily.

How much wastage can there be in storing straights?

This is quite difficult to quantify as it will depend on the storing facilities: 10% losses could quite easily be seen in a poorly covered pile of a by-product stored in a clamp.

What causes waste?

Vermin, moisture, wind and poor covering all do, unfortunately. Urea wheat is a great option to prevent vermin damage, as rats do not like the urea.

However, crop dry matter is important to ensure the wheat is treated successfully, and there is quite a time factor associated with mixing and storing a year’s worth of grain at once.

Some farmers prefer to buy in caustic cereals to save the headache of mixing it up on farm.

If this occurs, we recommend selling any home-grown wheat on the same day as they purchase the caustic wheat – this prevents farmers ending up on the wrong side of the market.

What are the issues around feed quality of straights and feeding out?

If purchasing a product such as caustic wheat and storing it outside in a clamp, it is important to remember that dry matter (DM) could change in summer due to the sun or heat.

We often suggest mixing caustic wheat regularly if stored outside to ensure a top “crusty” layer does not form over the summer (the dried whole grains will be seen in the manure of the animals).

Using straights also requires wagon operators to be accurate and consistent.

The variability of straights is a concern – although I feel the biggest variability would be shifts in DM (rather than energy or protein), and this is obviously more challenging if straights are stored outside.

If buying straights from a store or large supplier, I would expect there to be a record of the crop’s DM. I think the variability is likely to be higher in cereals, not proteins, which are largely imported.

DM changes potentially have a big effect on intakes and output, so monitoring these between loads of straights is important.

Farmers should be mindful of DM changes while products are stored on farm – particularly if stored outside.