Can floor type and animal space affect cattle performance indoors?

Finishing cattle over the winter is a costly enterprise and average daily gains (ADG) made over this period may be the difference between making a profit or loss.

In addition, feeding animals for the shortest period possible – and achieving the correct finish – will leave more money in the farmers’ pocket.

Farmers buying winter feed need to look out for a number of ingredients and nutritive values. The single most important determinant of live weight gain in finishing cattle is energy.

Farmers should also pay careful consideration to the size of the shed available, as overcrowding can lead to a significant reduction in animal performance.

Also Read: Housing: Have you enough space?

The availability of straw for bedding may be a problem for some farms this year. However, there are other options available.

Research carried out by Teagasc, in Grange, Co. Meath last year, indicated the effect of floor type and space allowance on the performance and welfare of finishing beef heifers.

The trial – which lasted 105 days – was carried out with 240 continental crossbred heifers, with an average weight of 504kg. The heifers were grouped according to their breed, weight and age.

Heifers were randomly penned to one of four environments:
  • 3m²/head on a slatted concrete floor;
  • 4.5m²/head on a slatted concrete floor;
  • 6m²/head on a slatted concrete floor;
  • 6m²/head on a straw-bedded floor.

Heifers were fed a total mixed ration (TMR) ad-lib and the dry matter intake (DMI) was recorded for each pen of animals.

In addition – every three weeks – the heifers were weighed, dirt scored and blood sampled. Blood samples were analysed for complete cell counts and serum samples were assessed for metabolite concentrations.

Furthermore, cattle behaviour was recorded with infrared cameras from day 70 to day 87. Heifers’ hooves were inspected for lesions prior to the study and again post slaughter. Carcass weights; conformation; fat scores; and hide (skin) weights were also recorded.

Heifer performance

Post-trial results indicate that the heifers housed on straw bedding (6m²/head) had a higher ADG of 0.15kg than those housed on concrete slats at 6m²/head.

They also had higher hide weights, better feed conversion ratios (FCR) and dirt scores. In addition, the number of heifers lying – at any one time – was higher on straw than on the concrete slats. However, the carcass weight difference between the two was not significant.

heifer

Heifers allocated 4.5m²/head had higher ADGs than those on both of the other concrete slat environments. However, space allowance had no effect on the carcass weights when slaughtered.

As a result, it can be concluded that increasing space allowance above 3.0m²/head on concrete slats was of no benefit to animal performance.

Furthermore, housing heifers on straw instead of concrete slats will have no bearing on carcass weights at slaughter.

Neither bedding type or space allowance had an influence on the number of hoof lesions gained or on any of the haematological or metabolic variables measured, the Teagasc research found.