Dust-extracted straw pellet takes bird bedding to next level

The first chicken barns are testing the product now with positive results

L to R: Office Manager Courtney Paton, Owners Matt Hendriksen, Mike Hendriksen, Ewart McLaughlin, Marketing & Sales Manager Sara Minler

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By Catherine Agar

MOUNT ELGIN – Founder of The Straw Boss, Ewart McLaughlin, says a new pelletized, dust-extracted straw product, “will change the way we bed chickens in Canada”.

McLaughlin, one-half of E & E McLaughlin Warehousing, formed Straw Boss with partners Mike and Matt Hendriksen two years ago at its Mount Elgin location where they took over a former Cargill fertilizer plant. The site was ideal with commercial zoning and the scales and buildings in place for handling and trucking bulk product.

They started with processing straw into a fine cut, less than one inch in length, or course cut, three to four inches in length, dust-extracted bedding for the equine market, distributing to local farms in bulk and in thirty pound bags through the network of TSC stores in Ontario.

The idea for pelletized straw came from a meeting with Laszlo Barany, CEO of Master Good, a vertically integrated chicken operation in Hungary, where they’ve had success with the bedding. “He took it (pelletizing) to a new level,” and through testing determined how best to pelletize and crumble. The experience from Hungary showed an improvement in feed conversion and a better quality bird.

Bale of The Straw Boss fine cut staw

“The birds were more comfortable, so in this day and age you want all the animals comfortable,” says McLaughlin.

Starting the pellet line took fifteen months of planning and custom equipment made by CPM in Iowa, a world leader in pelletizing and particle reduction equipment to the animal feed and oilseed industries. They worked with Advance Millrights Inc. from Elmira to customize the remaining equipment. The plant has two separate lines, one for cut straw and now the other for pellets, and each line can process two tonnes per hour.

There are three stages of dust collection along the cutting line before the chopped straw goes through a stone trap and magnet, then drops into a 250 HP hammer mill. The pulverized straw is heat-treated to 180 degrees for three and a half minutes to kill pathogens like salmonella. It is formed into an 8 mm pellet and finished after dropping into a crumbler to crack the pellet.

The plant has ninety tonnes storage capacity for loading out in trucks or totes. The first chicken barns are testing the product now with positive results and Straw Boss is ready to market the product across Ontario.

“The straw itself is more absorbent when it’s cut up like that,” because it has more surface area compared to straw out of the field says McLaughlin. He estimates, “the absorbency rate is probably ten times more than our cut straw,” so chicken barns will use less compared to conventional chopped straw or sawdust. “We can auger it into the barn or blow it in, store it into feed bins, or we can deliver it by the tote.”

Sara Minler, Marketing & Sales Manager for Straw Boss, has a poultry background and says farmers and workers will appreciate the dust-free quality. She says where it really shines is carcass quality and feet condition.

“Shavings will actually cut their feet, then they have a lesion.”

Pelleted straw on a dish absorbed water in less than one minute

The pellets are soft, absorb moisture, dry out quickly, and are heat-treated to reduce bacteria, all features especially critical to Raised Without Antibiotics growers. “It’s important for RWA growers to keep the litter dry”.

She suggests farms with dry storage for round bales buy all their bedding needs for the year in the 1500 lb totes.

An Australian study in the June 2017 issue of Poultry Science demonstrated the potential benefits to using pelleted wheat straw as a bedding material on broiler health, performance, and welfare.

Straw Boss trailers are equipped with disinfectant sprayers for tires or customers can pick up product from the Mount Elgin site. Each Straw Boss truck carries twenty tonnes and it is set up with scales for offloading the right amount into each barn. Matt does the deliveries and Straw Boss anticipates hiring four more drivers as the business grows.

McLaughlin suggests a usage rate of 2-3 lbs per square metre and the pelletized bedding sells for $0.32 per pound. They are sourcing good quality straw within a fifty mile radius of the site. Straw coming in tests at 9-11% moisture and the pelleting process takes the moisture down to eight percent. McLaughlin says they will also “enter into a trade arrangement” with Straw Boss buying the farmer’s high quality straw in exchange for pelleted bedding.

The exciting part of the business for McLaughlin is, “it’s so new. It’s just the most wonderful product.” Get in touch at www.thestrawboss.ca.

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