Dairy cow housing flooring can affect lameness levels, according to investigation.
Concrete slats which feature an abrasive finish are a more comfortable walking surface for dairy cattle, according to research from independent veterinary consultant Owen Atkinson.
In Mr Atkinson’s research, carried out on behalf of Moore Concrete, stride lengths of mainly Holstein cows with sound feet were measured on different surfaces.
It was noted the animals’ strides were longer on the firm’s abrasive Surefoot concrete slats compared to other surfaces – including rubber covered solid concrete, solid grooved concrete, 50 per cent rubber slats, brush finish concrete slats and rubber covered slats.
Rubber covered slats came out as the least comfortable walking surface for dairy cattle when measuring stride length.
However, only one farm out of the 19 involved in the study had these installed and, as such, there may be other factors responsible for shorter strides in this herd.
The report from the study noted although the rubber slats provide a secure surface for bulling behaviour, they can lead to more skids and shorter strides made by the cows.
Mr Atkinson says: “Cows showing good walking behaviour will have good tracking, where the back foot falls exactly into the front footprint of the same side, with no underlap.
“Lame cows will tend to have a greater underlap distance where the back foot does not meet the front footstep.”
He says cows confidence is reflected in their stride length and can also lead to a decrease in white line disease.
Mr Atkinson says: “Although abrasive concrete appears to be a harsh surface to cattle’s feet, once a thin layer of faecal fibre covers the floor, a cushioned effect will be created. The textured surface of the slats is less likely to retain its shiny clean look, however this will not have any negative health implications.
“Getting flooring right can have a real effect on herd lameness. Believe it or not, the average lameness level in a herd is 33 per cent. You may not think this is the case but many lame cows hide inside the herd, which is their natural instinct as a prey animal.
“If we take the loss of milk, increase in cull rates and lower fertility levels, lameness can cost £330 per case. On average, cattle will be lame for 5.5 months at a time. Therefore, in a 100-head herd, there will be 75 new lameness cases each year.”
Of the 19 farmers involved in the study, 58 per cent believed oestrus activity was significantly improved in herds on abrasive concrete slats.
Frequency of licking of the flanks is seen as a sign of comfortable cows, which Mr Atkinson says occurs equally as often when housed on the abrasive slats as on grass.