Last week’s buildings feature covered the first part of a presentation delivered at the Teagasc national beef conference by Dr Bernie Earley, Teagasc Grange.
The feature looked at the importance of space allowance for finishing cattle and also assessed performance of cattle housed on concrete slatted floors versus straw bedding.
This week’s feature details the second aspect of the presentation assessing if the addition of rubber mats to concrete slatted floors enhances performance and animal welfare. Bernie started off this section by discussing a review of published international scientific literature, the results of which are detailed in Table 1.
Average daily gain, feed conversion efficiency and carcase weight were all marginally higher for animals housed on rubber slat mats laid on concrete slatted floors but they were not at a level to be deemed statistically significant. Contrary to popular belief, the animals spent marginally less time lying on the rubber slat floor type.
Bernie said that most of the scientific literature is conclusive in this area
Animals on rubber mats also had a higher dirt score but, again, it was not statistically significant.
Bernie said that most of the scientific literature is conclusive in this area but highlighted, however, that one weakness in the analysis is that there is no mention made of the type of rubber mat used in the research. Bearing this in mind, a study was carried out in Teagasc Grange. The first data from this study was presented by PhD student Cathy McGettigan in 2020.
There were 144 late-maturing continental crossbred beef steers used in the study. The animals initially underwent a 21-day adaptation to get them accustomed to a finishing diet of grass silage and a rolled barley-based total mixed ration offered on a 60:40 dry matter basis.
Animals were assigned by age and weight to one of two treatments – housed on a concrete slatted floor (CSF) or housed on a CSF covered with Durapak rubber mats.
There were four animals per pen, giving a total of 18 pens per treatment. Animals had a space allowance of 3m2 per head. Feed was weighed into each pen twice daily and any feed not eaten was removed and weighed once weekly.
Animals were weighed every 14 days early in the trial, reducing to weekly weighing towards the end of the 120-day finishing phase while their behaviour was monitored through CCTV. The condition of hooves was recorded at the start and end, while blood profiling and hide dirt scores were also collected every 28 days.
Animal performance results were presented at the conference. There was no significant difference in intake between the two treatments, with animals on the rubber mats having a 0.2kg higher dry matter intake.
The difference in average daily gain was significant, with animals on the rubber mats gaining 1.15kg daily compared to 0.98kg for animals housed on a CSF. This gave rise to a significant difference in the food conversion rate.
Slaughter performance data is presented in Table 2.
Following on from a significant difference in average daily gain, there was a significant benefit from housing cattle on rubber mats in terms of liveweight at slaughter (+18kg) and carcase weight (+11kg). There was no significant difference in kill-out, carcase conformation score or fat score.
There was also a similar study carried out last winter with suckler beef weanlings, with the study set up in a similar manner to the beef finishing study. In this study, there was no significant differences found in the performance of the weanlings over a 120-day period.