Weather challenges will stand out in the agriculture record books for 2023. Tight straw supplies are likely to feature under some heading, with yields hit on three fronts.

Late planting of spring crops and unsuitable growing conditions curtailed the height of straw, while a lower acreage of tillage also had an effect, along with significant volumes of straw not collected due to weather.

On top of this, the attractive Straw Incorporation Measure (SIM) saw higher volumes of straw chopped.

Table 1 details typical slurry storage requirements per week and the volume of straw required for different classes of animals to absorb all urine.

Sheep farms are probably most reliant on straw for longer-term winter housing, while dairy and suckler systems have a significant straw demand around calving.

Sit down and calculate

It is advisable to sit down and calculate the volume of straw on hand and also the likely requirement.

This may be a new requirement for a sizeable number of farmers who have converted to organic farming and now find that at least 50% of floorspace must be bedded.

Weights of bales can vary, depending on how well bales are packed, but also depending on dry matter.

In general, a 4x4 round bale of straw will weigh about 140kg to 150kg, but this can vary from 130kg to 160kg – and up to 180kg in highly packed bales.

The 8x4x4 bales weigh about 540kg to 580kg (can vary from 480kg to 600kg), while 8x4x3 bales weigh in general from 360kg to 380kg. Small, square bales weigh 12kg to 14kg.

Reduced demand

Where supplies are tight, then it is advisable to look at options on how straw demand may be reduced.

For example, the use of straw blowers can deliver greater absorption and reduce demand by up to 10%.

Where cattle are bedded on straw, the highest demand is typically along the feed face.

Erecting a floor barrier to retain straw in the bedded area and scraping the feed face will greatly cut down on demand, as will including well-designed seepage channels.

Exploring alternative bedding options – such as peat and sawdust, etc – may provide some scope to reduce demand, but it is still important to do some homework on how they might fit in to your system.