Studies show that rubber matting for cows has a positive impact on mobility, hoof and leg health. The softer underfoot conditions provided by rubber mats reduces physical injuries to the hoof compared to concrete floors, and therefore a reduction in lameness overall.
The hooves of a cow are intended for walking on soft surfaces such as grass, sand and mud. This is not the situation in dairy systems today, where cows spend many hours on concrete floors and gravel alleyways on their way to and from the milking shed.
Why is rubber matting better than concrete flooring?
Concrete is the most common flooring material in dairy sheds. However, concrete floors can be slippery, especially on ramps and alleyways.
In a study comparing concrete floors with rubber floors, it was found that cows on concrete floors had a greater risk of lameness than those on rubber floors and consequently needed more treatments. So rubber matting can help to reduce your animal health costs.
Just as humans enjoy spending time on softer surfaces such as beds and sofas and walking in cushioned shoes, animals may also prefer softer places to stand, walk and lie on.
Rubber matting improves grip for cows
Rubber matting can improve alley flooring comfort and grip. There are a lot of different rubber floors on the market today, with different thicknesses and designs. A thickness of at least 10 mm of rubber mat is needed to produce a floor that minimises the risk of slipping.
Tests have shown that cows with or without sole ulcers walk more securely, with longer and higher strides, more symmetrical steps and at a higher speed on rubber floors than on concrete floors. This verifies the claim that rubber floors are more comfortable and secure to walk on than concrete floors.
For John Begley the change to Numat rubber matting was needed after a challenge arose from new construction.
“We have a fairly modern cowshed, but needed to build on to it,” said John. “Putting a ramp up the back was part of this project. However the angled concrete here proved slippery for the cows – and we were having problems with them on it.”
The choice to run rubber matting on the ramp proved a successful one – so much so that John didn’t stop there. “After this worked well we decided to do further work – installing matting on the front and back of the shed on the herringbone entry and exits,” he said.
Causes of lameness in dairy cows
There are many reasons why cows become lame. One explanation is that modern cows spend a lot of time on hard, slippery floors which results in strain injuries to their outer rear hooves. This can cause sole lesions to develop and gradually leads to lameness.
Studies found that the risk of sole haemorrhages was lower on rubber floors, and most common on concrete floors. A softer floor may decrease the risk of strain injury and therefore minimise the risk of sole haemorrhages.
A sole ulcer is a painful hoof disease often causing lameness. A sole ulcer normally appears in the lateral hoof of the rear feet and is described as a canal through the diseased, haemorrhagic sole horn to the corium. Treatment of a sole ulcer can be costly. Sole ulcers can be prevented by breeding, proper diet, hoof trimming and softer flooring.
Hygiene on rubber mats can also be easier to maintain because they have a non-porous surface and wash down easily. Lameness issues such as digital dermatitis can be more easily controlled in an environment with rubber matting as hygiene can be improved.
Dairy NZ says the way your cows are managed can also increase the occurrence of lameness.
- Have you ever taken the time to observe cows as they move on races and in the yards during milking? If they are walking slower in places it could mean they are slippery or the making the cows feel uncomfortable for some reason.
- Is everybody on your farm aware that if cows’ heads are up they are under too much pressure?
- Do you detect lame cows before they are at the back of the herd and can’t bear weight on their hoof?
- Does everybody on your farm understand how to use the backing gate to maximise cow flow and minimise hoof damage in the yards?
- Do you have enough experienced staff treating lame cows to ensure that all lame cows are treated as early as possible?
Find more info on lameness at www.dairynz.co.nz/animal/cow-health/lameness/
Animal welfare needs to be taken into account to achieve sustainable dairy production with healthy, happy and high-yielding cows.
Return on investment for rubber matting
When a cow is unwell, there is not only a direct cost for veterinary treatment and extra labour for the farm staff but also indirect financial losses due to decreased yield. Milk production has been shown to decrease for several months before and after the onset of a disease/disorder such as lameness.
Studies show that rubber matting can reduce the occurrence of lameness and also help cows to heal from their disease/injury quicker. Therefore rubber matting can help reduce the financial losses caused by lameness.
Maintenance costs can be a big factor for some dairy alley options such as gravel. Rubber matting is long-lasting and Numat guarantee the quality of their rubber matting for up to 10 years. That means with rubber matting you could save time and money on alley maintenance.
Take a look at the case study below from a customer who discovered rubber matting was the most cost-effective option for his dairy shed.
When Merv McCabe went looking for a solution to his effluent containment and lame cow problems he considered a few different options including white gravel, concrete, and rubber matting.
Merv knew concrete would be hard on his cows’ hooves and that white gravel would require frequent maintenance. After doing his sums, he discovered rubber matting was the most cost-effective option for addressing both problems.
After an on-site visit, Numat recommended their Canadian-made Legend mat to cover the trouble area. Merv agreed and installed the mats himself.
Numat rubber matting provides comfort with soft walking areas and helps to keep your alleyways clean.
The natural rubber surface replicates the feel of real pasture, immediately putting the animals at ease and reducing the incidence of lameness and falls.