Beef farmers advised about the risks of straw impaction

Thursday, 7 March 2019

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 and fermentable energy to feed the rumen microbes so they can break down fibre. Feed then becomes blocked in the stomach (omasum/abomasum).

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. 

“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

  • 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/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.