Alternative housing systems for fattening bulls under Austrian conditions with special respect to rubberised slatted floors
Previous studies have noted significant welfare problems in cattle housed on fully slatted floors. The aim of this study was to investigate the suitability of alternative housing systems under on-farm conditions. Health, behavioural and farm data of fattening bulls were collected on seven Austrian farms between January 2006 and April 2007. The housing systems studied comprised fully slatted concrete floor pens (CS), fully slatted floor pens covered with rubber mats (RS), straw-bedded pens (ST) and a system combining straw-bedded pens (for bulls weighing < 450 kg) and fully slatted floor pens (for bulls weighing > 450 kg; SS). The numbers of scabs/wounds on the carpal joint and severe lesions/partial losses of the tail tip were significantly higher in CS and SS than in RS and ST. The claws of bulls in ST and RS showed clear signs of reduced abrasion, but this does not seem to have any negative impact on the corium. Behavioural alterations were observed mainly in CS and SS. The numbers of lying and short standing bouts were significantly higher in ST and RS than in CS; the mean duration of lying bouts was significantly lower. Mean duration of lying down and standing up was significantly lower in ST than in CS and SS. Bulls in ST had a significantly higher daily weight gain than bulls in all other systems. It is concluded that rubber mats improve the welfare of bulls housed on slatted floors. However, neither the RS nor the SS system reached the welfare potential of straw bedding provided throughout life.
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