14 June 2002

Reduce straw use with covered concrete slats

By Jonathan Long

HOUSING beef cattle on concrete slats covered with rubber can reduce reliance on straw without jeopardising performance, according to research at Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland (ARINI).

Figures from the study, show cattle liveweight gains were similar for all systems, although cattle on concrete slats had the lowest liveweight gain. Despite having the highest dry matter intake, carcasses of cattle on the rubber strips had the most lean/kg of carcass weight.

"The fact that floor type appears to have little or no effect on performance or carcass composition suggests that there are no welfare issues associated with housing cattle on slats," says Richard Kirkland of ARINI.

"The perception is that cattle perform better on straw, however these results dispel this theory. There is no discernible gain from housing cattle on sparse and expensive straw."

Flooring type also has an effect on cattle cleanliness. "Cattle housed on slats covered with rubber mats were dirtier than those on other floor types. However, cattle on slats or slats covered with rubber strips were not consistently dirtier than cattle on well bedded straw systems," says Dr Kirkland.

"The show indicates that cattle are not always cleaner on straw beds compared with slatted systems. This combined with a lack of straw in the province and the fact that they do not appear to compromise cattle welfare, suggests rubber covered slats could have a future."

Another issue when considering cattle cleanliness is ventilation. With dirty cattle rejected at slaughterhouses, it is important cattle are as clean as possible when leaving winter quarters. "Cattle kept in housing with poor standards of ventilation were dirtier than those housed in well-ventilated accommodation. This may largely be due to cattle in poorly ventilated housing becoming wet due to condensation." &#42