Keep cows warm and toasty with rush bedding

As the freezing temperatures continue, farmers are being encouraged by the RSPB to keep their cows warm and toasty by using rush as bedding.

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As the freezing temperatures continue, farmers are being encouraged by the RSPB to keep their cows warm and toasty by using rush as bedding.

By cutting rush on their wet land and using it as a replacement for straw, farmers can save money and help improve conditions for breeding wading birds such as curlews and lapwings. Although these wetland birds like small clumps of rush for nesting cover, if there is too much rush they are unable to breed successfully.

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The trick to making a good rush bedding product appears to be in the timing of the cutting and baling.

John Robinson of Moss Side Farm, Broughton-in-Furness, who made 134 big round bales of rush this autumn said: The secret of making good bedding is leaving the rush to weather outside for at least 3 weeks, before you dry it out and bale it. This year we had some good weather late on and this has meant we were able to make some very good quality bedding.

Norman Cooper, a farmer from Troughton Hall, Broughton-in-Furness has been using rush straw for bedding his suckler cattle. He said: It is grand stuff and its saved me a bit of money.

Catriona Glendinning, adviser for the RSPB Lake District Breeding Wader Project said: Using locally produced bedding makes good economic sense as well as vastly reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of bringing straw in long distances by lorry. Straw is an expensive commodity at the moment, and it is great that farmers are able to save money at the same time as benefiting biodiversity on their farms.

I have heard farmers saying in the past that rush bedding is not worth making as it is such low quality and does not absorb liquid, but if the rush can be left out to weather, this seems to break down the waxy coating and allows the rush to become absorbent. The straw at Troughton Hall was golden, good quality bedding material.

Several farmers in the Duddon Valley have entered Higher Level Stewardship agreements (administered by Natural England) to encourage breeding wading birds to nest on their land.  These agreements can pay up to 360/hectare/annum. Rush control is an essential part of the management to encourage birds such as curlew, snipe, lapwing and redshank to breed as well as enhancing conditions for other wildlife. The Duddon Valley floodplain has been an important area for these species in the past and by managing the grassland with a combination of cattle grazing, rush management and raised water level management, ideal conditions can be re-created to allow successful breeding.

The Lake District Breeding Wader Project is a partnership project between the RSPB, Natural England and the Lake District National Park.

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