A UK-wide shortage of straw, which has led prices to almost double, has meant that many Welsh livestock farmers are looking for different materials in order to provide bedding for overwintering cattle, sheep and pigs.

Red meat levy body Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), has in the past undertaken research on the pros and cons of different bedding options, and has urged farmers to look at which choices might work best for their systems.

“A number of factors, notably a demand for straw from renewable energy plants and bad weather at harvest time, have led prices to rise,” explained HCC industry development executive James Ruggeri.

Some farmers will continue to use straw but devise strategies to keep their costs to a minimum. “Depending on their systems, some livestock farmers will choose to make more use of slatted housing or leave their animals outside for longer. Other strategies include ensuring that buildings are well-ventilated and dry in order to ensure that straw is not wasted,” said James.

“But we’re seeing other farmers looking for alternative bedding materials, all of which have various advantages and drawbacks,” he added.

James referred to research work which had been done by HCC, and summarised in the booklet, Alternative Bedding Materials for Beef and Sheep Housing Systems in Wales, which is available on HCC’s website and in paper copy on request.

“Barley and wheat straw are hard to beat on most measures, but with costs rising there are alternatives,” he said. “The key factors when comparing bedding solutions are whether the material keeps animals dry, healthy and comfortable; whether it is easily-available and cost-effective; and how effective it is to store and dispose of as compost. Some products also require a waste exemption certificate in order to use them as bedding.”

“Woodchip is a material which is very suitable for sheep, but it requires a long period of composting after use. Rape straw and miscanthus are more easily used as compost. Bracken is used by some livestock farmers and has its advantages as a bedding material, but there is evidence that it releases carcinogens,” added James.

HCC’s booklet on alternative bedding is available by contacting info@hccmpw.org.uk or online at http://hccmpw.org.uk/publications/ farming_industry_development/ alternative_bedding_for_livestock/