Farm trials to test woodchip as an alternative to straw
Four west coast farmers are trialling different kinds of woodchip as an alternative to straw for livestock bedding, and will work with a scientist to assess its impact on soil.
The Rural Innovation Support Service group, co-ordinated by Fergus Younger of Scotland’s Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) has been awarded £30,000 of funding from the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF) to trial spruce sawdust, hardwood chip, spruce chip and mixed hardwood/softwood chip with both sheep and cattle.
Soil scientist Audrey Litterick of Earthcare International will conduct soil testing to assess the environment impact of spreading the resulting woodchip and muck on fields.
Sheep and beef farmer Duncan Macalister, of Glenbarr Farms, Kintyre, has been using sawdust instead of straw for five years, and says he is spending around half the money for a better result. “Straw costs £140 - £200 a tonne and saw dust £78-80 a tonne. I used 125 tonnes of sawdust last year so you do the maths!
“The other good thing is sawdust is antiseptic, so we’ve seen better health in both the sheep and cattle. If you keep fat lambs in a shed, after four weeks in straw half of them are lame. In the sawdust foot problems are dramatically reduced – we had hardly any at all.
“The cattle stay cleaner too. We calved in sawdust last year and we’ll do it again – we had no issues with navels.
Picture: Duncan Macalister, of Glenbarr Farms
“But what we don’t know is what it’s doing to my land, and that’s what we’re testing for. Information is everything!”
Neil Donaldson, who runs the Argyll Small Woods Co-op, helped bring the group together and sees another value to the trial. “Green wood fines for bedding could be a destination for the low value timber farmers have on their land or from the local area. Rab Smith, from Coillie farm, is trialling Spruce woodchip that comes from a local estate on his farm on Islay as bedding for sheep. A lot of west coast land is marginal, and this could be a way for farmers to save money and use local resources. But you can’t just say, ‘This is a good idea’ – you have to test it scientifically.”
The other farmers involved are Calum Leitch of Kilcreggan, Loch Awe, trialling hardwood chip with sheep and cattle, and John Filshie of Lyleston Farm, Cardross, who is trialling softwood/hardwood green chip with cattle.
“RISS provided the framework to get this group together and put together a project plan,” says RISS lead David Michie, of Soil Association Scotland. “Their project is a win-win, which should increase farm profitability, whilst benefitting the environment. It should encourage the planting and managing of trees on farms (agroforestry), which helps store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”