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Modern sheep barns in cold climate - preference by shorn sheep for different types of slatted flooring

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan www.asabe.org

Citation:  10th International Livestock Environment Symposium (ILES X)  .(doi:10.13031/iles.18-002)
Authors:   Grete H.M. Jørgensen, Juni R.E. Johanssen, Knut E. Bøe
Keywords:   Floor materials, Slatted floors, Behavior, Resting, Preference.

Abstract. In recent years, slatted floors made of materials like fiber composite and plastic have been introduced in animal housing systems. These modern floor types are claimed to have low heat conductivity and hence be “better” for the sheep than expanded metal, but the actual preference in sheep has not yet been tested. The aim of this study was to investigate the preference of ewes for different floor materials at low ambient temperatures. The experiment was performed in a non-insulated building and the indoor air temperature varied from -11.8 to + 3 °C. Each experimental pen measured 3.0 x 2.0 m (total 6.0 m2) and were divided into two equal sections (A and B). A total of 30 non-pregnant ewes were sheared and allocated to one of ten stable groups with three animals per group. Five different floor types - expanded metal, slatted floor made of fiber composite, slatted floor made of plastic, solid floor made of wood and solid floor consisting of a rubber mat, were installed in section A and B in the experimental pens. Groups were habituated to all floor material combinations and systematically rotated through the ten pens. Behaviors were scored from 20 hour video recordings using instantaneous sampling at 10 minute intervals. In addition, heat conductivity properties of the five different floor materials were tested. On days with low temperatures, the ewes were standing or walking more, resting less, eating or drinking more and resting more in physical contact than on days with higher temperatures. When given the choice, ewes showed clear preferences for standing/walking and resting on solid floor materials than on slatted floors. This is consistent with earlier preference tests on sheared sheep. Ewes did not seem to show a clear preference for one slatted floor material over another for resting. The proportion of time spent standing/walking in the pen was steadily reduced as air temperature in the barn increased. The present experiment suggests that none of the floor combinations had thermal properties that adversely affect resting and other general behaviors of the animals. The heat conductivity properties were similar among the slatted floors. In conclusion, the claimed favorable thermal properties of plastic slatted floors and fiber composite were not confirmed. There must be other properties of the floor than heat conductivity that influences the preference in ewes.

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