Studies carried out in recent years have shown that beef cattle prefer lying on rubber mats over concrete slatted floors, with an 11-14kg increase seen in carcass weight across different studies over the last few years.
One recent study, carried out by Teagasc’s Cathy McGettigan, looked at how floor type can affect the performance of finishing cattle. In this instance, she compared rubber mats and concrete slats.
A previous study using bulls saw a trend that there was improved carcass weight for cattle that were lying on rubber mats over a concrete slatted floor.
Another study in 2017 also saw similar improvements in increased carcass weight, but like the previous study, it wasn’t statistically significant.
In McGettigan’s study, she used 160 continental-cross steers, with half of them on rubber mats and half of them on concrete.
All cattle in the study were bought in and outwintered on an outwintering pad, then brought onto concrete slats, after which they were split up between the concrete slats and the rubber mats.
The study concluded an 11kg increase in carcass weight, on average, with animals that were lying on rubber mats.
McGettigan also looked into why this is was the case.
Looking at the cattle’s behaviour, she saw that eating time was the same, dry matter intakes were the same; all the cattle in the study were being fed the same amount too.
Speaking to Agriland at the Teagasc BEEF2022 Open Day, McGettigan said: “The question still remained: Where [is] this extra 11kg was being gained from?
“Cattle lied down for an hour more/day on the rubber mats but that energy they were conserving by doing so wasn’t enough to lay down an extra 11kg of carcass weight.
“So, as of yet, [we’re] still unsure how this is the case.
“It could be down to being more comfortable on the rubber mats, better grip, more confident to get up and then to lie back down – that was seen from cattle on the rubber rather than the ones on bare concrete.
“We aren’t sure if there is a slight stress associated lying on bare concrete rather than mats. Blood parameters were carried out and nothing came back,” she continued.
“Is it just a mental thing? Is it just that they are just more uncomfortable?” she wondered, adding this it is “really hard to measure that”.
“It’s interesting, we looked at hoof growth as well and there was no difference between the two floor types; no difference in lameness or hooves needing to be trimmed.
“A preference test was carried out between the two floor types [and] showed that the cattle very clearly preferred the rubber mats over the bare concrete slats,” she said.
“Cattle had the option of lying on rubber mats or bare concrete, with the rubber mats, as mentioned, coming out on top.”