Are There Risks Associated with Using Spoiled Straw for Mulch and Feeding Moldy Hay to Livestock?


Are There Risks Associated with Using Spoiled Straw for Mulch and Feeding Moldy Hay to Livestock?

Round bale silage, or “baleage,” presents an alternative to traditional dry hay baling. This method allows for a shorter curing time, helping to preserve valuable nutrients by minimizing the risks associated with rain damage, harvest delays, and weathering, particularly when stored outdoors. It’s suitable for grasses, legumes, and small grains, but its success hinges on adhering to proper techniques. However, there might be reasons to be cautious about this method.

For gardeners in Northern California, using spoiled straw for mulch raises concerns. Although readily available in community gardens, the compromised quality of these straw bales, often stored under inadequate conditions, leads to spoilage. The presence of ants and other issues further complicates their use. While the convenience and availability are tempting, the potential downsides cannot be ignored.

Feeding livestock with moldy feed or hay comes with its own set of problems. Such feeds may induce mycotic (fungal) abortions, respiratory issues, decreased feed consumption and growth rate, along with digestive disturbances in cattle. Additionally, molds in feed can adversely affect humans who handle them. Given the diversity of mycotoxins potentially present in these feeds, some of which cannot be easily tested for, the implications for animal health are significant, as highlighted by sources like U.OSU and Ohio BEEF Cattle Letter.

In the realm of landscaping, mulches play a crucial role. They conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. However, not all mulch is created equal. Fungi, such as mushrooms, slime molds, bird’s nest fungus, and artillery fungus, often thrive in landscape mulches, particularly in the eastern United States. These fungi, while sometimes harmless, can pose aesthetic or structural issues for gardens and landscapes, as detailed by Penn State Extension.

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Another concern is toxic or sour mulch, known as wood alcohol syndrome. This issue arises when freshly applied wood mulch products cause damage to plant foliage, leading to bleaching, scorching, or chlorosis. Such problems are often linked to the storage conditions of the wood mulch. Similarly, the quality of leaf mold as mulch can vary, influencing soil health and plant growth.

For farmers, handling moldy hay is a tricky endeavor. Apart from affecting animal health, mold can also lead to farmer’s lung, where the fungus grows in lung tissue. This necessitates caution and discernment when selecting hay for feeding, especially for sensitive animals like horses or pregnant cows. The dilemma extends to production losses, which can range from 5-10% even in the absence of mycotoxins, and the increased risk of spontaneous combustion in wet hay.

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