The combination of tight straw supplies in the market in recent months and elevated prices witnessed many producers failing to source their normal volume of straw this winter.
Supply issues have been further complicated by inclement weather forcing earlier housing.
Reports from farmers and advisers point to possible shortages, while some producers have acted early to try and conserve supplies, and ensure sufficient volumes are available for the critical lambing period.
Where there is any doubt regarding supplies, then the earlier this is recognised, the greater the options will be to take action.
The first step is to carry out a straw budget. This can start with calculating demand or available supplies.
Lowland ewes on average require 7kg straw bedding each week to absorb all urine and keep bedding relatively clean, while hill ewes require in the region of 4kg to 5kg.
As a rule of thumb, a typical 4x4 round bale of straw weighing 140kg will be sufficient to provide bedding for 18 to 20 lowland ewes per week, or 30 to 35 hill ewes.
This calculation is based on ewes consuming a silage diet with a typical dry matter content of 25%. If hay or haylage are being fed, then the bedding requirement can generally be reduced by 20% to 30%.
This calculation does not take account of the fact that some straw saved this season is of lower quality, with a higher moisture content, and therefore its absorbency should not be overestimated.
The volume of straw required to bed individual pens where ewes and their lambs have a turnaround time of 24 to 36 hours is estimated at four to five 4x4 round bales for every 100 ewes lambing.
This requirement should be increased by 20% to 30% in high prolificacy flocks where a high percentage of triplet-bearing ewes require additional time in the lambing pens.
Weight of bales
The standard weight used for 4x4 round bales is typically 140kg to 150kg, but these can weigh as low as 120kg in poorly packed, low-moisture bales, to 180kg in bales which are well-packed or have a high-moisture content.
Large 8x4x3 bales weigh about 360kg (350kg to 380kg), while 8x4x4 bales vary more in weight, ranging from just under 500kg to upwards of 600kg.ADVERTISEMENT
The typical weight is often 520kg to 540kg. The best way to get an accurate weight is to weigh a selection of bales while identifying the moisture content.
There are a number of practices that can be used to try and reduce straw demand and target supplies to when they are needed most. Here are a few:
In contrast to cattle, sheep are not heavy enough to turn up a new layer of peat and, as such, the bedding may need intervention from time to time. Woodchip is similar, with machinery required to keep the bed fresh. Both, however, can be used as a base layer under straw, to improve soakage and reduce straw usage.
Sawdust is in demand for manufacturing/burning and, as such, may not be cost-competitive or easy to source. Some farmers have used wood shavings or miscanthus bedding to pretty good effect in individual lambing pens. While a costly option, it can work with some products on the market, such as pine shavings claiming natural properties in keeping diseases like E coli at bay.