Feeding ground straw for greater rumen heath and development

The rumen in cattle is like a seesaw, as it constantly needs balancing to achieve the optimum performance. Like a seesaw, if the balance is upset it can throw the digestion out of kilter, causing adverse effects on the animals’ health and performance.

The use of straw in all manner of diets, to increase fibre, slow digestion and provide some stability, has been, and is still widely used, in many different cattle diets. With this particular article I want to look at feeding chopped or tub-ground straw to both calves and adlib cattle as part of their diet.

To start with, what is ground straw???? The process of grinding straw is more than just chopping it. The straw is broken across the grain as well as length ways. This breaks the stalk down as well as the leaf, so you have consistent structure and size. This can increase the intake of straw by the cattle or calves due to its decreased size and softer form making it more palatable. It also means its less likely to be sorted out of wagon mixes when combined with other feeds.
Of the two scenarios I want to look at, I’ll start with the adlib cattle. This can apply to both finishing and long-term adlib beef.

Not as many people do “barley bulls” these days, but there has been, and I believe, still is, a place for these types of cattle if costed properly and done effectively. In both adlib bulls and finishing cattle being fed high cereal diets, getting enough fibre into the diet can be a bit of a trial. If left to free choice cattle will often prefer to eat the lovely palatable cereal mix (sweeties) you have worked tirelessly to present to them, leaving the forage (greens) to last, a bit like my 15-month-old son! This doesn’t help rumen stability at all. Acidosis is the cause of many issues with high cereal fed bulls and finishing cattle. It can lead to variability in intakes leading to performance drops. It can disrupt the ability of the rumen to produce vital vitamins that govern brain function and sight, to name just a couple.

So how do you increase that fibre intake? Well, that’s where your tub-ground straw comes in. Incorporating it into a mix or even in exchange for the forage you have presented. Ground straw intake can be two or three times greater than traditionally fed straw.

At this point I’m getting people shouting at their newsletter saying, “but straw is very expensive compared to other forages.” True, but how consistent are your other forages? Do you have enough other forages? Can you spread the cost of other forages, as you can buy straw when you need it? Also, remember that it’s not always expensive and a lot of you have your own supply.

The second scenario is feeding straw to calves. The effects of this follow the same theme as the adlib cattle but apply to early development of calves. When establishing a rumen, fibre and starch are two key parts that can lead to a rapid and comprehensive development of a calf’s digestive system. Another common practice is to feed calves a good quality compound starter feed and straw for bucket or young dairy calves. The straw intake enables the rumen to be kept stable without reducing the calves cake intake.

The use of chopped straw as a replacement for conventional straw can significantly increase intakes and allow for a more stable rumen development which in turn can help to promote greater performance when fed fresh daily.

The cost of grinding straw (I am reliably told by a customer of mine who owns a machine) is about £10 per tonne on top of your straw price. Not a large cost but the returns from increasing rumen stability leading to greater feed intakes, greater growth rates, less time on farm and greater rumen health, can mount up.

Cattle and straw

Perhaps there is a place to utilise the straw fed on farm to maximise performance and gain a better return on you feeds.

I would urge all our customers to think about both your young stock and adlib/finishing cattle diets and ask yourselves the questions:

  • Are these cattle performing as well as we would like?
  • Are the feed intakes as good as we think they could be?
  • Are your calves blooming and growing as well as they could?

Joe Banks

Joe joined with six varied years experience in the industry. In his career so far, he has worked in the retail, fertiliser and feed sectors of agriculture. He believes this gives him a unique outlook on farm. Joe’s biggest passion is for Beef and Sheep and he is continually developing his already extensive knowledge in this area. He believes in the power of grass and thinks it is one of the biggest undervalued resources on farm. He also sees that the younger generation are the future of our Industry and is very enthusiastic when engaging with the youth of farming in the UK.