Straw as a Feed for Cattle

Richard S. Adams, Penn State Emeritus, Professor of Dairy Science

Normally in areas blessed with good rainfall and relatively cheap land as in much of the U.S. straw is used mainly for bedding. However in most forage-short areas of the world it is commonly fed as a part of the ration for dairy and beef cattle as well as sheep and goats.

When used in a balanced ration with adequate protein, mineral and vitamin supplementation straw can help maintain ruminants in a normal state. Because it is relatively low in many nutrients it should replace only 15 to 20% of the normal forage dry matter in rations for dairy cattle. This means that it may be fed to advantage at levels of 4 to 6 lb per head daily to milk cows. It also can be used in the feeding of dry cows and young stock for which it is even better suited than for milking animals.

There is a good crop of straw in many areas and it is not counted as a forage or feed in most emergency feed programs available through ASCS. Farmers who are low on forage and cash should consider feeding limited amounts of straw rather than using it for bedding, if alternative bedding such as sawdust shavings or shredded paper are available. In a low-forage, high concentrate ration the value of straw may be higher than indicated by its nutrient content due to its fiber content and particle size.

Assistance in balancing rations using straw or other forage substitutes is available from some county extension offices and Dairy Science Extension at Penn State (814-865-5491}, as well as numerous industry people and consultants.