Peat bedding: What are farmers’ first thoughts after housing for the winter?

After the summer drought, many farmers had to look at alternative methods when it comes to bedding their animals over the winter period. With a shortage of fodder on some farms, straw will be included in the diets of livestock.

In years gone by, it made financial sense to use straw for bedding. However, prices soared and it is simply not available in many cases.

So, what did farmers go for? While woodchip and even rushes were portrayed as viable options in recent months, a lot of farmers have gone down the peat bedding route.

Therefore, AgriLand asked farmers on the ground – who have decided to go for this option – what their initial thoughts are.

One farmer noted: “This is actually my second year to be using peat bedding and I think it’s a super job, once you are able to contain it in the area.

Peat bedding

“I try not to put in too much at the start – maybe 8-9in – and I add as the winter progresses. The weanlings I have on it are spotless, even when it looks mucky. But, the problem arises when it gets sloppy – that’s when you have hygienic issues.

“It’s very cost effective compared to straw and it is as effective as straw. The only drawback I find is that it is acidic and when it is spread on land, it can lower the pH of the soil,” he explained.

Bord na Mona (BNM) has increased its offering of peat used for livestock bedding for the housing season and – this year – the company has appointed a team to manage peat bedding sales and to grow the market.

In addition, with nine peat bogs situated in the midlands, tractor and trailer combinations and lorries have been busy moving peat for livestock farmers.

Image source: Bord na Mona

Another farmer stated: “I’m using peat this year because of the price of straw. It’s a case of so far so good and it has a great absorption rate.

“The peat has to be really dry going into the shed. I have heard of situations where farmers have used damp peat and this led to it becoming compacted quickly; if the peat is not bone dry going in then it will not work properly.

“I have a way of rotavating it in the shed every few days and this helps to keep it mixed. I’ll see how it goes, I imagine that I will have to clean it out in six weeks time,” he added.

AgriLand spoke with other farmers who all seemed happy with their first experiences of peat bedding. However, one farmer did note that the layer of peat he used was not enough and this led to the bedding becoming sloppy quickly.

Gurteen Agricultural College has used peat for bedding dry cows and weanlings for a number of years. It has found a deep layer works best.

76cm (2.5ft) is placed in the back of the pen and it slopes down to 25cm (10in) near the slats, where the animals feed.

A double slat is used to prevent the peat spilling into the slatted tank. When the top layer becomes wet, the whole lot is dug up, placed out into the yard, mixed up and put back in.

350m³ (14 silage trailer loads) were used in the winter of 2017/2018 to bed 50 dry cows and 140 weanlings for five months. The experience of other farmers is that bedding with a 15cm layer is simpler in that it can be topped up or cleaned out as required.

In addition, Teagasc’s Tom Coll said: “The calves might be a bit dirtier on peat than they would on straw; but from a health point of view, there’s no real issue.”