Hay or Straw? Effect of feeding meadow hay or winter barley straw on the performance of artificially
reared dairy-bred beef calves to 12 weeks


Studies at Pennsylvania State University have demonstrated that feeding concentrates to young milk fed calves stimulates papillae development compared to calves fed just milk and hay. Feeding concentrates results in the highest rumen concentrations of butyric acid, the metabolism of which in the rumen wall produces beta hydroxy butyrate which has a high correlation with animal performance at this stage. Calves are also typically offered some long fibre, for rumen muscle tone and to encourage cudding. They also require some dietary fibre to minimise problems with bloat and reduce issue with acidosis, especially with diets formulated with elevated levels of starch.

In a survey of commercial farms in Northern Ireland (Morrison et al., 2009) it was found that straw and hay were offered by 59% and 33% of farms respectively. There are however some anecdotal comments that feeding hay results in ‘pot-bellied’ calves.

The objective of this experiment was to investigate the effect of feeding either good quality meadow hay or winter barley straw to artificially reared beef calves on their performance and health to 12 weeks.

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