Conventional housing is expensive and may be prohibitively so, particularly for beef cattle. This has probably been the main driver for the interest in Out Wintering Pads (OWP)  for outwintering livestock, although there appear also to be animal health, welfare and production benefits. OWPs consist of a woodchip lying area constructed over a drainage system, which may or may not be sheltered. Animals are generally fed from a concrete area adjacent to the woodchip pad, or they self-feed on top of the woodchip pad. In the latter system forage is ensiled directly on top of the woodchips.  The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance and well being of animals accommodated outdoors over the winter period on out-wintering pads (OWPs), relative to animals housed indoors in conventional slatted floor shed. One hundred and twenty-six steers were assigned at random to one of seven treatments. The first six treatments were accommodated on OWPs. These six treatments were arranged in a three (6, 12 and 18 m2 per head space allowance) by two (wind sheltered or exposed) factorial design. A seventh treatment group (control) was housed indoors in a slatted-floor shed at a space allowance of 3 m2 per head. There was no significant effect of stocking density outdoors or sheltering on any measures of performance or animals welfare and so this innovation is only concerned with the comparison of OWP and slatted floor shed.

A relevant challenge is that Irish winters can be wet with high rainfall. OWPs tend to become dirty in these conditions requiring frequent replacement of bedding material. Also  bedding material can sometimes be difficult and expensive to source.

The impact of this innovation on the socio-economic resilience of the cattle farms is, that OWPs are substantially lower in costs to construct, but annual operational costs can be higher due to frequent replacement of bedding material. Also, OWPs use lagoons for slurry storage and these require frequent land spreading of watery slurry. Overall, slatted floor sheds are preferred by farmers for these reasons.

There was no evidence to suggest that out-wintering compromises animal welfare. Further studies are recommended to determine the reason for  increased carcass growth and leanness of the cattle on the OWPs. Indeed, indoor animals had more white line disease (F < 0·01) and under-run (F < 0·001) on their front hoof, when compared with outdoor animals.

As the production efficiency is concerned the following can be stated. Relative to animals housed indoors on slats, animals accommodated outdoors on OWPs had higher daily live-weight gain (F < 0·001), carcass gain (F < 0·05), and food intake (F < 0·05). However, animals on the OWPs had less Kidney plus Channel Fat (KCF) per kg carcass and lower fat scores per 100 kg carcass. 

Literature source: Out-wintering pads for finishing beef cattle: Animal production and welfare. Animal Science 75(3) 447-458

Author: Maeve Henchion - TEAGASC