Rubber mats are a happy medium between concrete slatted floors and straw bedding, according to Teagasc researcher Cathy McGettigan.

A study carried out by McGettigan looked at how floor type can affect the performance of finishing cattle, which concluded that steers housed on rubber mats saw an 11kg increase in carcass weight.

Speaking to Agriland at Beef2022 last week, McGettigan said: “In a study we carried out, we did a preference test looking at what type of flooring cattle, in this case steers, preferred to lie on.

“So in one test, cattle had access to a concrete slatted floor and rubber mats and we found the cattle preferred to lie on the mats, very clearly.”

The study then we looked at rubber mats compared to straw, and found that the cattle preferred to lie on the straw she said.

However, she added that straw, although perceived to be better for animal welfare, makes the animals dirty and is of “no real benefit in terms of performance”.

“You might see improved average daily gains but there’s been no reports of improved carcass weight,” she said.

“So for the labour input that goes into straw-bedding cattle, it’s probably not worth it.”

“Rubber mats seem to be a happy medium,” the researcher continued.

“There’s obviously investment in purchasing the mats at the start and the lifetime then depends on the animals that are lying on them.

“The study I carried out killing 80 cattle at roughly €3.80-4.00/kg, which it was at the time in 2019, and what we spent on the mats, it was going to take four years to pay back what we spent on them.

“If you were doing a few rounds of cattle through the shed, you’d obviously pay it back quicker.

“With the labour involved in bedding cattle with straw and then also the price of buying in straw – and availability of it can be an issue – I don’t really know is it a realistic option anymore,” she added.

“Mats work well as an alternative at a much lesser labour cost, despite having that higher initial cost. And even still, with mats, you could do it bit by bit, each year doing a bay or two over a few years.”