Animal performance can be below target on many farms during the winter months. This has knock on implications for future animal performance and slaughter age.
Good quality silage, adequate supplementation with concentrates, good ventilation and a good health plan are all very important to keep animals putting on weight during the housing period.
What is often forgotten about is lying space and feeding space, both very important factors in optimising winter performance in weanlings, store cattle and finishing cattle.
Table 1 gives a breakdown of the Teagasc guideline figures on animal lying areas in slatted sheds, slatted cubicle sheds and straw bedded areas.
In the following examples we look at how to estimate the lying area required for various types of cattle. In straw bedded sheds, stocking density, chopping of straw and the type of straw used will all have an impact on the level of straw usage.
Cows on slats
A standard bay of a shed with a 12.5ft slat and footing at the feed area normally measures 4.8m wide and 4.2m deep. This is a combined area of just over 20m². According to the Department guidelines of each suckler cow requiring 2.5 to 3m², the maximum number of cows in each pen would be seven or eight.
Feed space per cow should be approximately 500mm-700mm depending on the size of the cow.
Where young calves are with cows and suckling on slats, with no bedded creep area, an additional 1 to 1.75m² should be added per calf. In a nutshell, this would mean that the capacity of the pen would be reduced to approximately five cows with their calves.
The bedded creep area required at the back of a 4.8m-wide pen would need to measure more than 3m in depth for seven calves and greater than 3.35m in depth for eight calves in order for each calf to have approximately 2m² of lying area each.
Weanlings on slats
The typical slatted pen of about 20m² could cope with up to 10 weanlings over 275kg according to the figures. However, feed space has to be taken into consideration also. The average weanling requires approximately 450mm of feed space.
Taking this into account, the standard shed bay could cope with up to 10 weanlings eating at once, depending on the feed barrier design.
Getting the lying space right on straw bedding can have a significant impact on performance and the straw usage. As seen in Table 1, a suckler cow on straw would need 4m² with an additional 1m² where calves run with them.
Having sufficient lying area or lieback area off slats is one of the key requirements of animal housing in an organic system. The Department of Agriculture animal housing specifications state that 50% of the minimum internal floor area required for the animals shall be of solid floor construction, and covered with straw or litter.
There is also extra space needed for animals on slatted and loose housing compared to conventional housing.