With straw supplies already looking to be scarce in some parts of the country and likely to tighten by the Spring it is time to start planning for housing sheep and lambing now. If you intend to use straw make sure you know how much you need and have secured a supply of straw. Straw traditionally is the choice bedding for lambing sheds and pens however straw shortages mean you may need to be prepared to find an alternative. There are a number of options available.
Woodchips work well as a base layer with straw providing a free draining bed with the top layer staying drier for longer helping to save on straw. It is not recommended to use in individual lambing pens as has little to no thermal property to keep new-born and young lambs warm. The dry matter of the woodchips is important. For best results it is recommended that the moisture content of the woodchip should be less than 30% (preferable 20%) to maximise absorbency. There is the option to use home-grown wood for chipping as the wood needs to be dried for at least 12months beforehand this is unlikely to be an option for lambing this year but is an option going forward.
Sawdust works well when used in rotation with straw. It offers good levels of absorbency with softwood varieties more absorbent than hardwood. Sawdust provides a clean comfortable bed with a nesting score similar to that of straw providing it is kept fresh as it does become wet quickly (increasing the risk of bacteria build up). It is not advised to use sawdust with a very fine particle consistency as this fine sawdust can get into fleeces and there is a greater risk of dust.
Recycled wood known as fines are also an option but care sure to be taken to makes sure the product is free from contaminants such as plastic, nails, etc. Wood shavings and peat are also bedding options.
There is the option to use an alternative straw variety; wheat or oat. Like with barley straw these are high palatable allowing the sheep to forage among the bedding.
Sarah Balfour, email@example.com
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