Raymond Linnane, along with his son John, operates a 50-cow suckler herd in Bellharbour, Co. Clare – right in the heart of the Burren.
Operating a spring calving system, 50% of the calves produced are sold as weanlings; the remainder are sold at 18 months.
Raymond keeps the cows outdoors on the Burren during the winter. However, these cows are housed come January – just as calving commences. The weanlings are generally housed in a slatted unit from November 1.
“When the cows are out in winter, one thing that they are guaranteed is dry-lying conditions up in the mountain.
“It might be a little bit exposed when it is 300m above sea level; nevertheless, they have shelter and dry lying. The weanlings are housed indoors in a slatted unit, which has been fitted with rubber matting,” Raymond explained.
Animal comfort and welfare
Animal comfort and welfare is extremely important to Raymond, saying: “A happy herd is a productive herd.
“The slatted housing unit was built 11 years ago. We installed it with EASYFIX Slat Rubber at this point. There were a couple of pens built subsequently and there is no rubber on these, so we can see the difference that the slat rubber makes to our herd.”
The Linnanes intend to fit the remaining pens with EASYFIX Slat Rubber, based on the benefits it has brought about in the original slatted house.
Concrete vs rubber flooring
Raymond continued: “There is no doubt that the animals are much more content on the EASYFIX Slat Rubber.
“In the concrete pens when a calf is born, if you put down some rubber mats, they will lie on it sooner than the concrete. This is indicative that they are more comfortable on the rubber.”
The Clare-based farmer graded the rubber on a number of criteria. These include: impact of rubber on lameness; average daily gain (ADG); overall productivity; cleanliness and hygiene.
1. Impact of rubber on lameness
Raymond believes that lameness is not an issue because of the rubber.
“We would not see lameness at all on the rubber. Before the cows go into the shed, they are scanned and they are dressed for lice.
“Any animal that needs hoof paring is looked after. We have noticed a drastic decrease in the number of lame cows as a result of using slat rubber.”
2. Average daily gain
He now feels that the average daily gain has also increase significantly, saying: “As the cows are in much better health, they are gaining more from what they are eating.
“In terms of grass utilisation, we are getting a much greater return from the herd when we started housing them on slat rubber than before.
“When the cows are let out to grass in spring, we would see a notable improvement in the herd – they are much more content.”
3. Overall productivity
He added: “The major advantage of the rubber is comfort; but the herd’s overall productivity has also increased significantly.”
Another benefit of the rubber flooring that Raymond has noticed is increased safety.
“Sometimes the weanlings that are housed on the slats without rubber, slip and hurt themselves because they have no grip.
EASYFIX Slat Rubber ensures that my herd does not slip and potentially hurt themselves.
4. Cleanliness and hygiene
He admits that his animals are noticeably clearer on the slat rubber flooring, saying: “My cows and weanlings are much cleaner when they are on the rubber. This is really important when it comes to selling in the mart.
“The dirt does not stick to them. It’s also much more hygienic, as the rubber can be power washed once the animals are let out of the shed.”
Quality and value
In terms of quality, Raymond is quick to note the durability of EASYFIX Slat Rubber, adding: “The slat rubber was installed when the shed was built 11 years ago. So far it is showing no sign of deterioration.
“It cost €969 (including VAT) per pen. If you look back over the last 11 years, that’s an average of €88/bay per year. It really is value for money,” he concluded.