Straw offers potential savings in forage costs

Including straw in suckler cow rations this winter could save £60 a cow in forage costs and reduce the need for daily bedding of cattle, according to Keenan nutritionist Seth Wareing.

Mr Wareing says the shortage of first-cut silage in many parts of the country due to the dry spring, coupled with straw shortages is a real concern for many suckler herd managers.

However, Keenan costings show scrimping on straw this winter may not be necessary when it is used to bulk out rations.

“Including straw in diets has a double whammy effect. Firstly it slows intakes so cows eat less silage – something which is essential in a winter when conserved forages will be at a premium – and secondly, it helps to firm the dung, meaning less straw is needed for bedding.”

Mr Wareing says on a typical ad-lib feed system, suckler cows will take 40kg of silage and 1kg of straw a day. Whereas when fed a Mech-Fiber mixed ration with straw included they will be full on 17kg of silage and 5kg of straw, this has the potential to reduce total forage use by 20-30%.

With silage costed at £30/t of dry matter and straw at £100/t of dry matter, ad-lib feeding would result in a daily feed cost of £1.30 a cow, whereas with a mixed ration with straw included it would only cost £1.01 a cow a day.

“Over a typical 200-day winter housing period this equates to £60 a cow in savings.

“On top of this the quantity of silage needed by cows is vastly reduced meaning better quality silage can be fed to youngstock, or simply less silage can be made and more stock can be grazed through the summer.”

This straw-based mixed rationing is particularly applicable to spring calving cows which don’t need to be fed heavily through the winter, he says. “Where spring calving cows have been well managed through summer they will enter the winter in good condition and should be managed to lose a bit of this condition over the winter before they calve.

“Cows should be making the best use of grazed grass in summer to reduce the need to make silage for winter feeding. It is far more economic for the cow to graze the grass and build condition on her back then it is to make silage,” explains Mr Wareing.

And while wheat straw is the preferred option for inclusion in rations where availability is limited, alternatives such as rape straw and pea haulm can be used in its place.

“When using rape straw it should be used 50:50 with wheat straw to guard against the high potassium levels it contains.

“Poor quality, long-stemmy storage silage and low quality hay can also be used as straw alternatives. The quantities used will depend on the quality of the main forage being used and the body conditions of the cows,” he adds.