SLIPPERY concrete in cubicle sheds and collecting yards can cause serious untreatable damage to cows’ feet and legs. Investing in concrete grooving is a way to minimise slipping, as well as encouraging normal bulling behaviour. Hannah Noble reports.
Creating a textured surface on concrete can be done when the concrete is laid, but it is difficult to get right.
If the concrete is too wet it can slump and result in grooves with rounded edges, says Joe Kirby, of Kirby Cattle Services.
Depending on the frequency of use and the make-up of the concrete, he says the texture can be lost over time making it slippery and dangerous for cattle to walk on. The abrasive nature of some bedding materials such as sand can also accelerate wear.
Serious costs can be incurred from having slippery concrete in collecting yards or feed passages and as well as having to cull cows which have done the splits, many foot problems and lameness issues also stem from cows slipping on concrete.
Mr Kirby says white line lesions are often seen after cows have been in-heat, exhibiting bulling behaviour and slipping causing trauma to the foot.
Dr Nick Bell, of Herd Health Consultancy, says ‘slip-catch’ behaviour is thought to contribute to some cases of white line disease. Slip-catch is a term which describes a cow slipping on the concrete and the foot slamming to a halt as it catches hold of a groove or an area on which it can gain traction. This is commonly seen on concrete slatted surfaces, which Dr Bell says is often a reason for higher incidences of lameness on farms with slatted areas.
Mr Kirby says: “Also on a slippery surface you see an increased number of thin soles and excessive wear, the bottom of the foot becomes wafer thin and is very painful for the cow, this is also seen on very rough, badly grooved concrete.
“It works in a similar way to sand paper, if you hold it on a surface and it does not move it does not wear the surface down at all, but if you move it backwards and forwards, that is when the wear is caused, it is the same with a cow’s foot. If she puts her foot on the floor and it slides when she walks, that wears out the sole.”
Dr Bell says the cost of a case of lameness can be calculated from the expected cost of milk yield and fertility losses, as well as the treatment costs that are seen with each type of lesion. He adds there are varying degrees of severity, but losses can easily be in excess of £1,000 for a sole ulcer and similar for an incidence of white line disease.
“If you catch the cow at the bruising stage and treat her effectively then actually you do not see a massive reduction in milk yield and fertility. One of the biggest elements of the cost is the shortened lifespan that you get with chronically lame cows, so if you are able to treat proactively when cows are at the sole bruising stage you prevent a lot of the cost.”
However, these problems can be remedied by applying grooves to the concrete retrospectively.
Mr Kirby spent some time in the USA researching and learning about concrete grooving before importing his first machine from Wisconsin in November 2018, he has now taken delivery of his fourth TrakRite concrete groover.
“Our machines use diamond blade technology to leave a nice clean cut rather than hammering it and in some cases breaking the concrete up leaving a poor surface for the cows. This also means we are able to groove slatted surfaces.”
The main type of groove used by Mr Kirby and his team is the Accu-Step groove, which came from the USA, this involves cutting deep, straight lines in the direction of the cow flow.
“We always work with the direction of the cow flow, when a cow does the splits her feet slip outwards and with grooves mirroring the flow of cow traffic her feet will catch in the groove and she will be able to push herself back up,” he says.
Mr Kirby’s machines are capable of cutting about 250 square metres per day and the grooves he cuts are 1.9cm wide by 1.3cm deep with a 6.4cm strip between each groove. These dimensions ensure at least one claw is over one of the deep grooves at all times. The grooves are evenly spaced so the cow feels like it is walking on a flat surface, but there is always a groove to slot into if it does slip.
“The cost of losing a cow pays for a lot of area to be grooved, so if someone is losing one or two cows a year and we go in and do the grooving, which lasts the lifetime of the concrete, it pays for itself within a very short length of time,” he adds.
“If we are grooving with the cows in the shed, by the time we have done a couple of cow widths the cows are much more confident and are always walking on the grooved section, you start to see them running on it where they did not dare before.”
Dr Bell says often the immediate reaction of farmers who are dealing with concrete which has gone slippery is to find someone to groove it. However, he says there are various contractors out there but there is a huge variation in the quality of the finish with the different types of machine.
“I have now encountered quite a number of situations where the concrete grooving has sorted out the cows slipping over but then there seems to be an explosion in lameness. You would think it would be obvious but they accumulate week after week, after a year or two it starts to become a massive problem.
“Everything you do to try and treat the cows will help but if the concrete is so rough and uneven because of the grooving, the problem is just perpetual even with treatment and you just end up blocking a big proportion of the herd,” says Dr Bell.
To counter this problem, Mr Kirby also offers the service of planing down rough concrete which can be the result of a number of factors such as a rough float when the concrete was laid, cracked and rough concrete as a result of old grooving methods or when converting an old silage pit into cubicles exposed aggregate is often seen.
Planing the concrete to reveal a smoother surface is an option to provide some stability and take away some of the harshness of the rough grooved concrete, says Dr Bell. It does not make the concrete perfect but it can be carried out with good effect.
Mr Kirby says: “If you walk down a cobbled street you can feel it on the bottom of your feet and it is uncomfortable. If a cow is walking on that all day it can cause soft feet and also a lot of haemorrhaging within the foot which appears as sole bruising.”
Dr Bell says sole bruising can lead to sole ulcers which tended to be attributed to cow comfort problems.
He says: “If cows can rest they generally recover from a lot of bruising, but where the concrete is so rough there is so much bruising there is not that chance to recover even with the most comfortable cubicle bed.”