Is replacing straw bedding with mats and rearing calves on plastic slats a viable option?

Due to the scarcity of straw this year, alternative bedding options will be explored by farmers. Straw is too valuable as it is a vital source of fibre for this coming winter.

With reports of round bales of 4X4 bales of straw making somewhere in the region of €20-35/bale, alternative bedding options include: woodchip; peat; and rushes.

However, replacing all straw with mats in the calving area and rearing calves on plastic calf slats may be a possibility going forward. One farmer is currently exploring this option, as outlined in a recent Teagasc publication – Today’s farm.

The farmer – who runs a 90-cow, spring-calving herd – normally rears 25 replacement heifer calves and sells 87 calves at four weeks-of-age; 80 round bales of straw are used when calf rearing.

The facilities are described as excellent and there are provisions in place to build an extra slurry tank this year so storing extra ‘wash down’ will not be a problem.

Cost of conversion

The calf house was converted to plastic slats. The house contains six calf pens that measure 4.8m x 4.26m. The costs of the plastic slats were valued at €6,000.

The cost of rubber mats for the calving area amounted to €1,152; the pens measure 4.5m x 4.5m. 40 calf jackets were also purchased at a cost of €35/jacket. This amounts to €1,400.

So, therefore the total cost equals €8,552.

Total cost:
  • Calf slats for six calf pens (4.8m x 4.26m) = €6,000;
  • Rubber mats for calving pens (4.5m x 4.5m) = €1,152;
  • 40 calf jackets (40 x €35) = €1,400;
  • Total cost: €8,552.

The above costings have been estimated by Teagasc. This cost excludes labour and the extension of wash down facilities to the calving area. By not purchasing straw for bedding at 80 bales x €30/bale, a saving of €2,400 can be made.

Although it would take just over three and a half years to make the cost of the conversion back (assuming the same number of bales at €30/bale), it is food for thought.