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Agribusiness News May 2024 – Management Matters: Straw Alternatives

1 May 2024

Straw Outlook

Typically, at this time of year demand for straw for livestock bedding is relatively low, as stock are turned out to grass. However, a prolonged wet spring has affected stock getting out to grass and is now casting doubt of straw supplies for 2024 as wet conditions have affected spring cereals sown to date. It is anticipated that straw will be scarce come autumn, with many livestock farms having no carry-over after a long winter, it is therefore it is advisable to consider alternative bedding materials now. Contact local sawmills, wood processing and composting plants to find out what they can offer.

Key Considerations

There are several bedding alternatives available to farmers, however alternatives can present different management challenges. Key things to consider include storage, how compatible the material is with the farm’s slurry system, and nutrient value when applied to land. When looking at alternatives ensure that animal health and welfare is not compromised with the new bedding material, making sure that stock are provided with a clean dry, comfortable and safe bed.

Woodchips for Cattle and Sheep

In 2020/21 on the back of straw price increases, many livestock farmers opted to use woodchips. Woodchips (must be produced from untreated wood) create a good free draining bed, allowing urine to pass through, the bottom layer absorbs moisture allowing the top layer to stay relatively dry. For best results it is recommended that the moisture content of the woodchip should be less than 30% (preferable 20%) to maximise absorbency of the woodchip. For bedding purposes, it is the coverage over the floor which is important.  An initial depth of 10cm is recommended, however in some systems farmers have opted for a 30cm depth.

The Woodchip for Livestock Bedding Project (Farming Connect Wales) ran from December 2005 until May 2008 to evaluate the potential of woodchip as an alternative bedding material to straw for use indoors for beef cattle. Key findings as part of the project included.

  • The moisture content of the animal’s diets affected the performance of the woodchip bedding with more bedding required for the animals fed a wetter silage-based diet.
  • The species of wood used had no effect on the performance of the woodchip bedding.
  • Animal health, welfare and cleanliness of stock bedded on woodchip were of an equally high standard.
  • Woodchip based manures performed poorest when applied to grass highlighting the importance of not applying woodchip-based manure to fields until fully broken down by composting for approximately 2-3 years.

Previous trial work carried out by SAC/SRUC investigated the use of softwood woodchips to replace straw as bedding for Blackface lambs on all concentrate diet over a six-week period. The trail found there to be no significant effects on performance or DLWGs. Although the lambs on woodchips had darker fleeces, they were not found to be dirtier when assessed for slaughter.


Woodfines or woodfibre bedding (product is readily available and often sold under different brand names) is made from recycled wood such as offcuts and pallets which have been finely chopped. Particle size tends to be within 8-20mm. As part of the chipping process, the material goes through an intensive cleaning process using magnets to remove nails etc. However, it cannot be guaranteed 100% contaminant free. Generally sold on a grade basis, price increases with the higher grades, as these have gone through further, more intense cleaning. Benefits to woodfines as bedding include potential for better weights gains as bedding produces natural warmth, therefore less energy used by cattle to keep warm, and it is not palatable. However, it is important to remember that cattle will need access to a form of roughage in their diet if straw is replaced as a bedding.

Farm Assurance Schemes have set rules on the use of alternative bedding materials so ensure that materials are permitted and ensure you comply with Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules if appropriate, when applying wood based manure on land.

For more information on the use of alterative bedding materials please refer to;


Sarah Balfour,

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