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APHA issues health warnings over straw shortages

10th Jan 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has warned that shortages of straw could result in health problems on pig farms unless alternatives are found. 

StrawA wet autumn made it difficult to bale straw and affected quality. As a result prices soared in the second half of 2017 and currently stand at around twice the levels of a year ago.

The latest figures from the British Hay & Straw Merchants Association (BHSMA), published today, show barley straw prices in excess of £80/tonne across most of the country, and close to £100/t in the South West, with wheat straw prices generally above £70/t, with a high £88/t in the South West. Prices have started to stabilise in recent weeks, however. 

In recent information notes, APHA notes that where straw is in short supply, prices are likely to rise resulting in a shortage of good quality bedding for various species, including pigs.

It says: "These factors could force some farmers to cut back the amount of straw used for bedding on farms. A reduced amount of bedding increases the amount of faecal contamination of housed animals. This will raise the risk of diseases such as mastitis, especially in dairy cows, and alimentary disease resulting in diarrhoea in all ages of livestock, but the highest risk will be in neonatal and young animals.

"An increased risk of opportunist infection of the reproductive tract in animals giving birth is also associated with dirty bedding. Reduced bedding can also adversely affect the management of respiratory disease. Using less bedding will result in dirtier animals which can affect their suitability for presentation at abattoirs. Farmers may seek to find alternative types of bedding such as waste paper, or recycled wood shavings, but these can also be associated with difficulties, and present different management challenges.”

Alternative Bedding Materials

APHA highlights useful guidance on alternative bedding materials, including two documents from AHDB pork:

Bedding options for the English pig industry 

A Practical Guide to Environmental Enrichment for Pigs

APHA adds: "Whatever bedding is used, it should be dry and free of visible mould. It is important that farmers and animal-keepers discuss their choice of alternative bedding with their veterinary surgeon so that animal health issues can be considered."

Potential issues include:

Wood shavings, chips or sawdust from recycled wood waste should not have been produced from painted or preservative-treated wood. The Environment Agency (EA) has produced guidance

  • Animal By Product (ABP)-derived compost and ABP-derived anaerobic digestate are not permitted to be used as a bedding material. Compost and digestate have not reached an endpoint under ABP rules and thus bedding is not a permitted disposal method as at present it is not known whether the treatment methods may actually encourage growth or sporulation of certain pathogens with potential for adverse consequences
  • There are disease risks associated with re-using litter or bedding from other livestock; these can have a high microbial load and present a risk of introduction and spread of bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella species and may at times also contain veterinary products such as antimicrobials with the potential to cause issues with residues. Re-use of poultry litter can also present other risks, for example, botulism outbreaks
  • Toxic plants should be avoided as bedding. Although bracken is sometimes used, it can result in toxicity
  • Paper ash has been approved by the EA as a bedding conditioner similar to liming and used at a rate of less than 5%, not as a bedding alternative
  • Novel materials, such as coconut and hemp have been used, but digestive problems can arise if animals ingest quantities of the bedding.

APHA adds: "Veterinary surgeons need to be aware of these issues so they can best advise their clients. Advice may also need to be sought from the livestock industry levy bodies and specific advice on feed and nutrition from specialists. 

"Charities may need to be approached if farmers find themselves facing hardship."