Floor Surfaces And Alley Ways

Locomotion is an important action for all cows. In grass-based systems, cows may have to walk a long distance to the parlour and so they keep reasonably fit. Although this is limited in loose-housed systems, there is still a significant amount of locomotion associated with social and other activities.

Floor surfaces

Floor quality or condition in cattle housing systems is an important environmental factor and significantly affects performance. A poor floor will lead to an increase in leg injuries and claw disorders and a higher incidence of sole ulcers on the cow’s rear lateral claws. This is due to the pressure involved in walking or avoiding conflict, and this is often exacerbated by the abrasive nature of the concrete often used in alley ways. An ideal floor is clean and comfortable for cows to walk on, and is even and slip-resistant without being too abrasive to hooves. Floors must be simple to construct, durable and easy to manage and maintain. All concrete should be grooved to make it less slippery.  Before placing cows on freshly poured and grooved concrete, be sure to smooth off rough or sharp edges and abrasive patches to prevent hoof injury.

Concrete has long been the most common material for floors in confined animal systems, but is not very animal-friendly as it enhances the physical effects of load bearing on the feet; the un­yielding nature of the floor irritates the corium and increases blood flow causing accelerated horn growth. A softer, more resilient material like rubber might be a future alternative as it can be added on top of concrete making the surface less abrasive to hooves and providing more friction. The floor becomes less slippery and more cushioned, allowing the claws to sink into the surface. Rubber is documented to allow cows a longer stride and lower stride frequency, and is considered to reduce the risk of slipping to a greater extent than concrete or asphalt. A less slippery surface reduces injuries and increases mobility to feed, water and resting areas. It is well documented that, given a choice (e.g. Telezhenko et al. 2006), cows often prefer to stand on a rubber surface rather than concrete. Consider installing rubber mats to improve the daily routine of eating, drinking, walking and resting. In barns with worn out concrete, the addition of rubber covering can help prevent hoof problems. A rubber surface also encourages oestrus activity to be displayed as cows feel more comfortable, and therefore fertility is enhanced.

If you notice cows walking very slowly or timidly with rear feet splayed wide, it could be a sign of poor traction. Skid marks are another indication that the floor is probably too slippery. However, rubber can also result in an overgrowth of the claws due to its low abrasion. This has been ques­tioned in other studies, which indicate that over-wear may be reduced, but so too is overgrowth and that the net growth rate on rubber mats does not exceed that on concrete. In order to make sure overgrowth does not occur, hooves should be checked regularly and hoof trimming routines followed as necessary.

Slatted floors normally stay cleaner than solid floors with no additional labour required for manure removal, but these are documented to cause more hoof damage. Poor drainage of slatted floors can occur when cow traffic is too low or when there is too much bedding material or food on the floor. Scrapers on top of the slatted floor improve hygiene.

The cleanliness of solid floors can be improved by sloping, with frequent scraping or flushing. The slope should have a maximum incline of 1.5 degrees, positioned towards the middle of the al­ley and longitudinally towards the dung channel. The liquids can drain easily from sloped floors, which results in drier surfaces. One disadvantage is that manure will be spread over this dry sur­face by the manure scraper, which is why some farmers prefer a non-sloped surface in combina­tion with a scraper system. Solid floors have the advantage of being more natural and comfortable for cows to walk on. Using a lot of bedding is another way of keeping the floor and hooves drier, as bedding kicked out of cubicles will absorb some of the moisture from the floor and can then be scraped away. It also provides a soft cushion for animals to stand on with their rear feet when they don’t stand fully in the cubicle. The hygiene of barn floors has a considerable impact on animal health, Problem floors impact the hoof, the udder and milk quality. Floor design is therefore very important for long-term, consistently profitable, milk production. The floor is the part of the barn with which the animals are in closest contact.

Alley ways

Alley ways should be wide enough to maintain good cow flow around the barn and to encourage integration of new members to the herd. Wider alley ways also provide a greater area for slurry accumulation and reduce the risk of exposure.

Scraping

A good way of judging how often to scrape is to look at the number of cows in your herd and their cleanliness. If you have a lot of animals, or they get very dirty, scraping should be con­ducted on a regular basis (every few hours, for example) in order to keep alley ways clean and dry. Using an automatic or a robotic scraper can save you a lot of time compared with doing this manually. Automatic scraping can even be done while the cows are still in the barn, rather than waiting until they are taken out for milking, but they need to be trained slowly as the risk of injury caused by contact with the scraper is high lithe cows are not expecting it. Care should also be taken to ensure that the chain used to pull the scraper is not one that the cows could step on and injure themselves. It should either be made of material that will not injure the cows’ feet, sit in a channel slightly beneath the alley surface or have a protector/cow safety cover over it to prevent damage to both the scraper and hooves.

scraping

Some countries use “flushing” systems to flush water through the alley ways to clean them. While this method is useful in some set-ups, these systems can result in higher incidences of infectious hoof diseases as the dirty water acts as a disease carrier. If this type of system is used, it’s important that flushing is only carried out when the cows are not in the barn to reduce the risks. Alley ways should be properly draining and allowed to dry before cows re-enter.

Bedding treatment

A bedding treatment with good slip resistance can be added to areas of particular concern for extra grip and moisture absorption. This can be especially important in feed passages and around water troughs where the floor is often wet. A bedding treatment will also stick to the hooves and help to dry them.

bedding

 

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK