SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Beef Association Board of Governors recently approved funding for a research project at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for understanding how cattle respond to feeding on different flooring strategies in slatted buildings.

The $50,000 research study was recommended for funding to the board by the Illinois Beef Association research committee and will be awarded to Joshua McCann, University of Illinois assistant professor of animal sciences; Dan Shike, U of I associate professor of animal sciences; Travis Meteer, U of I beef Extension specialist; and Courtney Hayes, U of I agricultural animal care and use program veterinarian.

“Confined cattle feeding facilities are becoming more popular in the Midwest as producers seek to comply with the EPA zero-discharge standard. Buildings with concrete slats and rubber matting are the most common flooring in these facilities due to lower labor inputs and greater ease of manure handling,” McCann said.

“However, peer-reviewed research that investigates the effects of adding rubber matting on top of the concrete slats is extremely limited despite widespread acceptance of their benefit to cattle welfare and possibly performance.”

This research will determine the effect of new rubber matting compared with old rubber matting and no rubber matting on cattle performance, locomotion, welfare and carcass characteristics after a 200-day feeding period. Results will document if differences in welfare and locomotion can affect cattle performance and profitability.

It also will determine the relationship between initial individual gait analysis and their performance and profitability on slatted floors. Steers will be evaluated at the onset of the experiment in a gait analysis to describe their structural correctness prior to assignment to the treatments.

“By studying welfare, locomotion and growth performance, we will be able to determine the driving factors behind lameness in slatted facilities and the opportunity for newer matting to alleviate those challenges. This research will increase our practical and scientific understanding of feeding cattle in modern confinement buildings. Proposed research will fill a critical knowledge gap in feedlot cattle management and improve production efficiency and welfare to facilitate more sustainable production of beef in Illinois and the greater Midwest,” McCann said.

Illinois beef producers will benefit from this applied research as the cattle feeding industry grows in Illinois due to the rise of popularity of confined cattle feeding buildings.

According to Nic Anderson, Illinois Livestock Development Group, more than 190 confinement buildings for beef cattle have been constructed since 2005 in Illinois based on permits files.

These confinement buildings have primarily been used for growing and finishing feedlot cattle, although their use for cow-calf operations also has increased.

According to McCann, slatted facilities improve manure handling and management, but the influence of rubber matting on cattle performance and welfare remains a consistent question.

“While confinement facilities are the new normal in the Midwest, we need to invest in maximizing animal welfare to increase public acceptance of this practice. Our preliminary data suggests up to a 5% advantage in average daily gain on rubber slats could be expected. However, the greatest impact will likely be providing high-quality data that can ensure our ability to continue feeding cattle in confinement in the Midwest,” he added.

IBA President Buzz Iliff said this award represents producer investment in the Illinois Beef Checkoff appropriated for research by the IBA Board of Governors Checkoff Division.

“The committee and board of governors were very impressed with the proposal and pleased to fund research that will answer new questions and provide rapid, critical information to Illinois cattlemen. The committee feels this investment will aid in the viability of the beef industry in our state and provide a high benefit for cattlemen in Illinois,” Iliff said.

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