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Influence of a rubber-topped feedlot slat on animal performance, welfare, and economic returns

Executive Summary

The objective/purpose of this project was to assess the impact of a new rubber slat amendment on the performance of finishing feedlot cattle raised on slatted floors in Ontario. The product was to be assessed in a commercial operation using three turns of cattle, essentially through all seasons of the year. The performance data was to be used to address economic factors related to capital cost for the rubber product, specifically whether the investment is justifiable. It was proposed this was to be done by attributing defendable values to parameters such as; lameness rates, incidence of health problems (“pulls”), performance, feed conversion, carcass merit (value) and assessed against the capital cost of the rubber material.

Ben Gardiner Farms Inc., a commercial feedlot located in Perth County, Ontario was the site for a comparison of cattle finished on conventional slatted (slotted) floors compared to a rubber amendment. Over three turns from April, 2008 to July, 2009, a total of 936 heifers were started in 4 pens. Of the 4 pens used for the trial, 2 pens had existing conventional concrete slats.

EasyFix™ slotted rubber mats were installed in the other two pens, being placed over top of the existing concrete slats. Cattle were tracked for various classical performance measures, animal health, cleanliness and carcass parameters. The use of rubberized slats reduced the number of cattle with foot and leg issues (12.0% for control vs. 5.7% for rubber, P<0.003), and also reduced the number of cattle which did not finish on slats and had to be removed for all reasons (14.2% for control vs. 7.6% on rubber, P<0.002). It also reduced the dirtiness of cattle on a tag scoring system of 1 to 5, at 2.4 for rubber and 2.6 for conventional slats (P<0.03).

Average daily gain (ADG) was also improved on rubber early by 0.37 lbs in the feeding period (P<0.008), but this effect diminished over the feeding periods of 125 to 152 days. Feed conversion and dressing percentage remained statistically unchanged for animals that were able to complete the finishing period on slatted floors.

This demonstrates that the attempts to date by feedlot operators to improve animal welfare and performance using rubberized products are justified and that the likelihood that the product improves the financial performance of slatted floor barns is high.

Conclusions

This trial shows the use of a rubberized amendment on existing concrete slatted floors results in the following performance improvements;

  • Improved ADG early in the feeding period
  • Reduced number of foot and leg issues and total number of cattle removed from slats
  • Reduced manure tagging of hides when nearing slaughter weight
  • Improved ADG of 0.37 lbs per head in the first 28 days of the feeding period
  • Reduced number of cattle that cannot finish on concrete slats
  • Reduced labour costs associated with removing animals from group (‘pulls’)
  • Therefore, economic value in this project should be calculated based on the costs of rearing
  • 6.7% of cattle in hospital pens vs. base production facility plus ‘pull’ costs, plus mortality in hospital pens attributed to morbidity in cattle originally coming from concrete slats, each of which would have been required to be preventable on rubberized slats.
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