by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
It’s probably not as varied as flooring meant for humans, but “there’s all kinds of ideas out there” as to what flooring is right for dairy cows, according to Curt A. Gooch, dairy environmental systems engineer with Cornell University’s PRO-DAIRY program.
“Flooring is probably the area of biggest oversight” when it comes to cow comfort and safety, Gooch said.
Gooch gave a presentation about dairy farm flooring at the 2017 Winter Dairy Management recently.
Simply reducing the decision to initial cost isn’t wise because in the long run, the wrong flooring reduces cow comfort (and thus production), increases risk of lameness and can contribute to falls.
Renovating a farm’s existing flooring can be costly; however, Gooch said some farms find creative ways around flooring faux pas of the past. He showed a slide that depicted a farm with a steep ramp. By using barn grit generously, “they provide good traction,” Gooch said. “That farm manages it well.”
Most farms use concrete for its durability and low cost; however, how it’s poured makes a big difference in offering cows a safe surface and one that’s less than ideal.
Most precast concrete floors are made with grooves because that makes them easier to clean.
Gooch said floors with a flat surface between the grooves “are not good for cows’ feet” and those with fins, or sharp edges between the grooves can injure their feet as well. Those with smooth edged grooves and with two inches of flat space between grooves “is ideal for cows’ feet,” Gooch said.
“Obviously, we have no control over how they will place their feet,” Gooch said.
The problem lies in that the hoof’s weight bearing points may miss the support of the wide, flat surface so that the animal’s weight is not evenly distributed on the hoof.
Gooch said the Dumelow Theory concludes that the best way to orient grooved flooring is lateral to the cow’s backbone to provide the best support.
If cows walk with their hooves parallel to the grooves, it places uneven pressure on their hooves. Dairymen should plan their floor orientation so that common pathways such as down chutes should have grooves that lie perpendicular to the cow’s natural pathway.
Gooch referenced the Dumelow Theory that the maximum traction is provided by a hexagon pattern with side of 1.8 inches to two inches.
“Any way she’s standing, she has some bearing points on the concrete,” Gooch said.
However, he said pouring flooring with hexagon patterns may not be feasible.
Discussing the flooring patterns and orientation with the concrete supplier can help increase your chances of obtaining the results you want. Since this is a big investment — both in your cows’ safety and comfort and for your farm’s finances — it’s vital to “make sure you’re on the same page,” Gooch said.
Seeking a concrete supplier experienced in the agricultural industry can help ensure you get the results you desire. The supplier should understand your goals, the routes your animals take, and, overall, why flooring is important to your herd’s health.
Of course, placing rubber mats on the concrete floor can help increase safety and comfort; however, it’s costly. Some producers find the cost limits their ability to cover all of their flooring in rubber mats. Using it in just a few places can provide a savings, but farmers should place it strategically. Placing it only in walkways keeps cows away from beneficial areas.
“Put it where cows eat, at the feed bunk,” Gooch said. “Then they’ll want to stay where they’re comfortable.”