Straw diet warnings following reports of impaction

Reports of cows dying from straw impaction is highlighting the risks associated with feeding straw-based rations to suckler cows.

Straw impaction occurs when cows are fed rations containing mainly straw, without sufficient protein supplementation. It causes feed to then become blocked in the rumen.

Currently, forage is in limited supply across many farms, so some farmers are incorporating high levels of straw into dry suckler cow rations.

Straw-based rations can be successful but rely on the ration being supplemented to include other forages or feeds providing sufficient protein that is readily degradable in the rumen.

Mary Vickers, senior beef scientist at AHDB, said: “The symptoms of straw impaction are low appetites and very solid dung. The rumen microbes simply don’t have enough protein to reproduce and ferment the feed in the rumen.

“We are reminding farmers to check their rations, feeding arrangements and look out for the symptoms to avoid this problem in their herd.”

Tips for successful straw-based diets

AHDB advisors recommend the following tips for avoiding straw compaction straw-based diets:

  • Ensure the overall diet contains at least 9% crude protein in the diet dry matter;
  • Where feeding other forages, analyse these to ensure the complete diet meets overall protein requirements
    Include a supplementary source of protein if required e.g. rapeseed meal, distillers grains, or peas or beans;
  • Make sure straw is clean and palatable;
  • A straw-based diet is very dry so ensure a plentiful supply of clean water;
  • Ensure all cows have good access to the supplement and the straw;
  • Mineral supplementation is important and needs to be suitable for suckler cow straw diets with good levels of trace elements and vitamins;
  • As calving approaches consider adding silage with the straw to ensure cows have a smooth transition if they are on a silage-based diet post-calving;
  • Feeding sufficient protein to pregnant cows in the last month before calving also makes an important contribution to a successful calving and good colostrum quality.

For more information please refer to the BRP manual: Feeding suckler cows and calves for Better Returns.