Livestock Housing in Ireland and throughout Europe for beef cattle during the winter months is predominantly in buildings with slatted concrete floors.
In Ireland due to the seasonality of grass, the production system in use for rearing and finishing beef cattle consist of a grazing season of 8 months, followed by a winter housing period of 4/5 months duration. This winter period can vary, depending on the weather and is typical for housing of heifers and steers, whereas bulls can be housed for longer periods because they can be difficult to manage while on pasture.
Concrete slatted floors are the dominant winter housing system used in Ireland. The advantages of this type of system includes low labour costs, lower space demands, very efficient manure management and relatively clean animals.
A prolonged period standing on concrete is recognised as a major risk factor for lameness. It also causes more interrupted lying down movements, fewer lying bouts and the surface can become very slippy. Concrete slats are a less preferred lying area for growing cattle compared with rubber covered slats. Hard concrete slats cause compression lesions and leg diseases such as carpel bursitis in growing cattle.
Concrete also leads to the prevalence of claw and leg disorders. Severe sole lesions and white line haemorrhages are often found in bulls that are kept on concrete over the winter period. In very severe cases this leads to depressed appetitive, reduced feed intake and a reduction in average daily weight gain.
In an industry that is accustomed to very tight margins farmers cannot sustain income losses due to lameness, poor thrive, reduced finishing weights and extended housing periods.
It is estimated by beef finishers that the use of rubber on concrete slats nets an extra €50 per animal over the winter period. At a stocking rate of 2.2 square meters per animal and the cost of rubber at approx. €55 per square meter, the cost per head is approximately €121. As an investment the farmer will have payback within 2.4 years.
Given this relatively quick payback period, progressive farmers will continue to install EASYFIX Slat Rubber in their slatted houses.