The role of straw in diets
The juggling of feed supply and demand has been frustrating, to say the least, over the last number of months. Now we are facing a winter when feed will be in short supply, and we must look for options to stretch it — while simultaneously not going too far outside our areas of expertise.
Most farmers, like cows, are creatures of habit and want consistency. For many years, each farm would have used grass silage and concentrate to feed their animals, occasionally branching out into using maize silage, whole crop and/or beet. Now, farmers are being faced with other alternatives, like moist feeds and forage extenders — and in some situations, they have no forage management practices or expertise beyond the standards for the field.
One ingredient that is present on all farms, but that is sometimes not used as a feed, is straw. Used mostly for bedding, it has very little feed value. However, what it lacks in feed value, it makes up for with effective fibre and bulk.
Every kilo of straw will replace 4 to 5 kilograms of silage. There is a requirement to make up a feed value deficient in some classes of stock — but if we use 50 round bales of straw, we could save 4 to 5acres of silage.
Price and availability of straw are two areas that we must pay attention to this year, and as such, there is an immediate need to contact our usual sources for straw as early as possible to get as much as we need. This might not be feasible in all cases, as the demand is growing, and more and more grain crops are going into whole crop. Therefore, looking for more straw at Christmas time will be even more difficult.
Over-feeding is evident around the country when it comes to dry cows. We need to build any requirements for condition into the late lactation stage, when it is more efficient to place requirements on them. With that done, maintenance during the dry period would be all else needed. During that time, we usually feed ad lib silage — amounting to 50 to 55 kilograms of silage per head, when they really only need <40 kilograms. This could amount to over 100 tonnes of silage for 100 cows calving down, or about 13 acres of silage.
In the absence of ad lib silage here, cows will get hungry and restless; as such, the use of straw in these diets is essential to bringing about rumen fill. Using the right processing methods, straw can be used in dry cow, weanling, finisher and, especially, suckler dry cow diets.
- Work out your straw requirements for the year and purchase/book them now
- One kilo of straw will replace 4 to 5 kg of silage
- Some animals don’t need ad lib silage, so use straw to fill the gap
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