Rubber key to slatted floors
SLATTED floors are not as bad for welfare as some European studies suggest, and adding rubber strips to them may help reduce any remaining welfare concerns.
A two-year study at the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, at Hillsborough, Co Down, compared cattle on various floor types to see whether supermarket concerns about slats were justified.
In the first year, cattle behaviour was compared on a solid floor bedded with straw, a fully slatted floor and a fully slatted floor covered with perforated rubber mats, explains researcher Denise Lowe.
"We measured daily individual feed intakes, liveweight and carcass gains, estimated carcass composition, observed individual animal behaviour and took 24-hour video recordings of cattle in pens.
"Floor type had no significant effect on any performance traits. We did find cattle on straw spent more time sniffing straw and chewing things on the ground, but otherwise there was no difference between each groups behaviour towards other cattle or any repetitive behaviour."
But cattle on the rubber matting became very dirty, which was unacceptable at slaughter, says Dr Lowe. "That led us to try strips of rubber in slatted accommodation for the second year of the study."
Again, no significant difference was found between floor type and physical performance.
But cattle on the slats with rubber strips did start to get up and down more than those on slats alone, she adds.
Dr Lowe suggests that cattle may be frightened of slipping on some slats, which would correlate with the fact that they got up and down less.
She also believed that adding rubber strips to slatted floors could help improve welfare. *