By Debbie James

Mats on the slatted floors of cattle housing have improved foot health at a Powys beef finishing farm.

The 12-bay shed at Gaufron Farm, Howey, can accommodate 240 cattle from 16 weeks to finishing.

The Hammond family have made several improvements to the housing since they took on the tenancy, including fitting slat mats.

Stuart Hammond, who farms with his mother, Sharon, uncle, Malcolm, and brother, Edward, says these have made a huge difference to animal behaviour as the floor had become very polished in places where the slats were worn.

“The cattle hated it,’’ he says. “They would stand still for a month after they arrived here from straw bedded housing, they wouldn’t move, and we were also getting a fair bit of digital dermatitis and other joint issues.’’

Fitting the mats has been a good investment, says Mr Hammond.

Growth rates also increased by 200g a day.

“The cattle are more comfortable; they will quite happily play in the pens now whereas before they were almost too frightened to stand up,’’ says Mr Hammond.

The mats are slightly curved so the urine runs off them and this keeps the cattle dry.

“We clip the cattle for slaughter in the winter because there is more moisture in the air but in the summer they are as clean as a whistle,’’ says Mr Hammond.

The business is a finisher for the Dunbia integrated beef programme – all the cattle finished are from dairy herds aligned to this programme.

The calves arrive at 16 weeks and are reared on the family’s home farm, Newmead Farm, for six weeks before they are transferred to Gaufron at 22 weeks. Target slaughter weight is 600kg, when cattle are 13-14 months.

Improvements have also been made to the shed’s ventilation.

Air in the shed had been stale, resulting in cases of pneumonia and this had an impact on performance and profitability.

To improve the situation, a ridge cap was removed from every other bay.

Making that small change to the roof has allowed the stale air to escape quickly and it keeps the atmosphere fresh.

There are also two fans with wind tunnels running down the centre of each half of the shed.

The holes in the tunnel force fresh air down into the cattle pens.

“When you stand in the pens you can feel the air moving. The aim is to change the air in the shed every five minutes,’’ says Mr Hammond.

“We never turn them off, they are on 24/7, 365 days a week.’’

Antibiotic usage is now down to 2.3mg/PCU. “It is continuing to drop because cattle are healthy when they arrive and we are managing them well,’’ says Mr Hammond.