“One of the problems is that not all concrete is the same, and not all rubber is the same.”
Cattle hooves evolved for walking on well-drained, soft surfaces like grass or pasture, not concrete or pools of mud, says Dr. Jeff Rushen, professor at the University of British Columbia, and researcher with Agriculture Canada in Agassiz, B. C.
Therefore, the choice of flooring can make a difference in the health and comfort of dairy cattle, Rushen told the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar held here at the beginning of March.
He says flooring can also change the impact of the animal’s foot on the floor, which can create problems. Sole ulcers may develop as a result of the conflicting forces between the bones of the animal’s foot pushing down and the upward pressure of the flooring’s surface as the animal lowers its foot.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently surveyed dairy farmers about their flooring types and found few cattle were put on pasture in winter or summer. Most farmers were using concrete, although there has been an increased use of rubber flooring on American dairy farms in recent years.
The USDA study found cows kept on pastures had a lower risk of digital dermatitis, and gaits improved when lame cows are put on pasture. Incidence of lameness was also reduced when cows are kept on straw or dirt flooring.
Rushen said concrete seems to increase lameness, especially when poorly maintained, with big holes and cracks. Cows forced to walk up concrete stairs have a greater risk of developing lesions, and grooved concrete has the greatest affect the health of a cow’s foot.
MOISTURE THE ENEMY
Rushen said poor drainage and slurry in a barn increase the risk of bacteria transmission between animals. Wet flooring doubles the risk of digital dermatitis as the
– Laura Rance photo
horn of a cow’s claw absorbs water quickly and was found to be eight per cent softer after being submerged in liquid for four hours, and 13 per cent softer after 12 hours in.
Slatted floors improve drainage in barns and can reduce the risk of digital dermatitis, Rushen said.
Rubber flooring is better than grooved concrete flooring, but was not found to be better than slatted or straight concrete. Findings on rubber flooring have been contradictory.
“One of the problems is that not all concrete is the same, and not all rubber is the same,” said Rushen. “The fairest conclusion we can draw from the research is that covering alley floors with rubber doesn’t guarantee a reduction in lameness.”
Rubber flooring does have a few advantages. It can increase cow mobility, reduce slipping and resulted in an increase in walking speed when compared to concrete. Rubber flooring can also reduce the impact of lameness on cattle that are already lame.
“There’s a lot of evidence to conclude that cows feel more comfortable on rubber floors than on concrete ones,” said Rushen. “If we’re only talking about cow comfort and cow welfare, there are certainly improvements if you put them on rubber flooring.”