Bedding options for the lambing sheds
With straw prices rising and haulage being an issue for farms that may not have an arable enterprise, more sheep producers are looking for alternative sources of bedding for housing ewes and lambs at lambing time. In this article, we take a look at the different options you might consider as you get ready for lambing.
Here are your options:
The most popular bedding material – straw allows the flock to exhibit natural behaviour such as foraging, whilst chewing can aid rumination and promote good rumen health. Straw has good thermal properties and average absorbency. Wheat, barley and oat straw are highly palatable so a proportion will be eaten, it also needs to be used on a deep litter system and topped up, so the quantity used can be large. Straw can also be spread on land after use.
There are many sources of woodchip that can be used for livestock bedding. Wood that can be chipped on farm, such as home-grown timber or recycled wood, may be the most cost-effective, but farms following this approach will require a waste exemption to be registered with the Environment Agency.
The dry matter of wood chip is important to optimise its absorbency. It is suggested that wood chip is less than 30% dry matter, ideally around 20%. Ensuring that the chips are properly dried is vital. Woodchips provide a free draining bedding, keeping the top layer of coarser chips dry. There is evidence to suggest that pine woodchips in particular have antibacterial properties, which would be of benefit in the lambing shed. At the end of the season the woodchip can be sieved, with the drier, coarser chips being able to be retained for use next year with the finer chips being spread on the land.
Sawdust is widely available throughout the country. However, it can be dusty depending on the type of wood and size of particles. Do not use very fine sawdust for sheep bedding as it contaminates the fleece. Sawdust can be a particularly useful bedding material when used in rotation with straw, or to bed individual pens, as it is free draining – but it does become wet very quickly, increasing the risk of bacteria build up.
Paper can also be successfully used as animal bedding. However, waste shredded paper and cardboard also require a waste exemption to be registered with the Environment Agency.
Waste paper can have a very high absorbency (with a moisture content of just 10% if kiln dried). A kiln dried product will have good thermal properties and low dust, spore and pathogen levels). However, finding paper suitable for livestock bedding from this source is difficult. Pre-prepared bedding can be bought.
Rape straw is similar to cereal straw; it is suggested that although it is less absorbent, it behaves similarly to woodchip and is a free draining bedding. It can be difficult to dry correctly for bedding and storing without the risk of combustion in UK conditions. Drying to below 20% dry matter content is ideal as it prevents moulds spoiling the product and causing animal health issues. However, it’s stalky structure lends itself better to being used underneath cereal straw, reducing usage of what may be a high value commodity this lambing period, although the stalky structure may not be suitable for young lambs and calves.