Housing: What is the biggest factor that affects cattle cleanliness?

With the wet weather beginning to hit all parts of the country over the past number of days, farmers have been turning their attentions to housing cattle.

The ideal grazing conditions experienced through the back end of 2018 were welcomed by all farmers. But, these conditions seem to have ended and farmers will have no other choice but to put stock in in the near future, if they have not already done so.

The difficult weather conditions – experienced throughout this year – have driven the price of straw to new levels and also left straw in scarce supply; but, other options are available.

A study was undertaken at the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland (AgriSearch) to examine the factors affecting the cleanliness of housed beef cattle.

Housing was assessed for ventilation; pen size; number of cattle per pen; length of time housed; and floor type (straw or slats).

Dietary factors measured included: harvesting method and date of all forages fed to animals; and type and method of feeding concentrates.

In addition, general details and management factors included: gender; parasite treatments; and which – if any – parts of the animal had been clipped at housing.


Animals in slatted accommodation were dirtier than those housed in well-bedded straw systems. However, cattle in poorly-managed bedded units were extremely dirty and, naturally, animals were dirtier as the length of time they were housed increased.

Increasing pen size and the number of cattle per pen reduced dirt score, while increasing the stocking density in slatted units did not produce cleaner animals.

As the quality of ventilation improved, so too did the cleanliness. This indicates the importance of maintaining a fresh air environment within beef housing.

Housing animals in well-ventilated units is a key factor for improving the cleanliness of beef stock.

In addition, proper ventilation is key when it comes to minimising pneumonia within the house.

Also Read: Housing: Ventilation is the key to minimise pneumonia this winter

Gender appeared to have little effect on dirt score. However, when both steers and heifers were penned together, mixed animals had a much higher dirt score. This indicates increased activity between these animals.

Furthermore, treatments for parasite control for finishing animals had a minimal effect on the dirt scores recorded.

Clipping of animals prior to housing – particularly the tail, flank and belly area – improved animal cleanliness. However, it did not eliminate the need for further clipping come slaughter.

In addition, feeding high levels of concentrates promoted dirtier stock. Low dry matter (DM) supplements such as potatoes, fodder beet and brewers grains resulted in an increase in animal dirtiness.

However, feeding well-fermented, high DM (>30%), first-cut silage was found to improve cattle cleanliness.