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Cow tracks mean extra energy can be accessed

Given the current milk market, getting more from your grass makes economic sense. Laura Bowyer investigates how this can be achieved with cow tracks.

 

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Cow tracks are an effective way of encouraging cattle to access

Cow tracks are an effective way of encouraging cattle to access energy from grass and, while there is a belief cows lose litres from going out to graze, this can be outweighed by savings.


Piers Badnell, of the Livestock Improvement Corporation, says these savings can be made through extended grazing periods which reduces feed and housing costs, including bedding, scraping time, diesel and slurry handling.


“On dry days there is 15kg dry matter available per cow and, if wet, 8-10kg DM per cow. Tracks can be used to access this energy.


“Grass can be a better quality forage than grass silage and can replace it in the diet while costing half the price, so encouraging cows to access all areas of available pasture can be highly effective.”


Mr Badnell says cow tracks allow year-round grazing. It can be worthwhile to calculate your own housing and feed costs versus return on investment a cow track may generate.

Track types

Stone/rubble

Quarrying stone on-farm can significantly cut costs in comparison to purchasing stone. Stone must be tightly compacted, which should be carried out using a vibrating roller and can never be over-rolled. If you bring in rubble on-farm, be sure the right licences are held to do so.

 

Railway sleepers

Concrete sleepers are more readily available in some parts of the country than others. Cost of transport can be high, because only low numbers can be put on each load. Sleepers will last forever and have a potential resale value.

 

Disused tractor tracks

If an old tractor track is used for cows, farm vehicles should stop using the track immediately. If using a stone track previously used by tractors, it may require a contractor to rotovate the track and form a cambered surface and fine top.

 

Astro-turf

Synthetic turf can give a comfortable surface to cows’ feet as it covers the sharp stone track. Make sure rolls of a decent size are used as smaller pieces will move. A good-sized roll will not move when laid out due to its weight. When it comes to laying the material into position, the weight of the material should not be underestimated.


Source: Piers Badnell

Costs of tracks

 

Track type Cost
Stone quarried on farm using farm labour £15
Purchased stone £30
Sleepers £3-7 each @ 4 per metre (transport cost dependent) plus £2-3 laying cost
Extended grazing period savings 8-12ppl
Housing cost savings (between £1.50 and £2.50 per cow per day exc. feed) (bedding, scraping time and diesel, feeding – diesel, cost of dealing with slurry – cow to spreading)

Advantages of putting in cow tracks

  • Increased output in terms of grass growth, utilisation and milk from forage
  • Reduction in housing costs (bedding, scraping, slurry storage, labour)
  • Reduction in cost of production
  • Reduction in amount of slurry which enters the store as cows spreading it themselves
  • Reduction in machinery use (cost and wear and tear) with respect to feeding and bedding

Source: Piers Badnell

Checking the surface

According to Mr Badnell, the best way to check if you have the surface right is to walk across it with just socks on. If you can do so without wincing, you know it is suitable for cows.

 

Construction


Maximum access, flexibility and minimal costs are sought when laying a track, so the grazing block will need to be looked at and the best course for the track identified.


Therefore, field boundaries might need to be remapped, says Mr Badnell.


At the far edges of the grazing block, depending on typography and soil type, a ‘sacrifice track’ might be acceptable where part of the field is fenced off as a track, with cows only travelling there once every 20-30 days.


He says: “There is no need to dig out top soil, as laying the track on top of the sward is fine. Some people use an impermeable membrane on top of the grass and under the track material, which may only be needed in heavy clay areas.”

 

Flexibility

 

Part of the flexibility of a cow track is the potential entrance and exit points at each length between posts.


This decreases soil damage from repeated travel on wet ground.


Mr Badnell says: “One strand of electric high tensile wire is sufficient along tracks if there is a good current. The fence should be 0.5m from the edge to encourage cows to use the full width of the track without fear of the electric fencing.”

 

Track width

 

The recommendation of Mr Badnell is five metres (about 16ft 5in) wide for 200 cows and then an extra metre (3ft 3in) per 100 cows. When laying tracks, it is useful to take future herd expansion plans into account.


He says: “It is far easier to get it right first time than having to extend later.”

 

Camber

 

The main ‘wearer’ of a track is running water. The furthest distance water should run on a track is from the centre to edge so a gentle camber to aid quick run-off of water is beneficial.


In terms of construction, there is no need to make the camber too high, Mr Badnell says, as cows do not like walking along ‘the side of a hill’.


A 200-400mm (8-16in) fall from mid-point to edge, to let the water run to the side, is recommended.

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