By:  Hannah Himmelmann and Donna M. Amaral-Phillips, PhD            Printable Version

Lameness in dairy cows is one of the major issues in the dairy industry. Lameness can cause pain to the cows, which in return, can decrease milk yield, fertility and longevity. This decrease in productivity can cause serious economic loss. The economic loss per cow due to lameness is calculated to be about $220. Many factors influence lameness. One common influences includes poor flooring surfaces in the barn in which cows are housed as well as the holding pen.

Choosing a Floor Surface

When deciding on a floor surface for any barn or holding pen, it is important to think about the cow’s comfort and safety. Cows should be able to walk across the floor surface with confidence. If cows have difficulty walking on the selected flooring, an increase in lying time and decrease in feed intake may be observed. A decrease in water or feed intake can cause a decrease in productivity which can lead to economic loss. The floor surface should also maintain a relatively dry state. Wet conditions are ideal for bacteria growth. Bacteria can cause multiple different claw and leg diseases. For example, digital dermatitis is a claw disease that is caused by bacteria and can cause lameness. Digital dermatitis alone accounts for more than 50% of lameness cases in dairy herds.

Concrete Floors

Concrete floors are common because they are durable, long lasting, and easy to clean. When using concrete flooring in the holding pen is easy to clean between milkings. All concrete floors should be grooved to prevent slippage. Many patterns of grooves exist. These include parallel grooves, cut grooves, and stamped pattern grooves such as diamonds or hexagons. The grooves must be properly spaced with appropriate dimensions. These dimensions vary with each pattern of grooves. For example, all parallel grooves should be placed 1.5 inches apart. Groove width should be 0.40 inches or less. A hexagonal pattern provides the most traction for cows. The hexagons should be 1.8 inches in length. Between the grooves, the floor should be smooth and flat. Stamping concrete is the most difficult of the patterns to create and often contains cracked or uneven concrete. Anti-slip aggregates can also be placed on the concrete in order to minimize injuries due to slippage. These aggregates can also extend the life of concrete floors.

Alternative Flooring Material

While concrete floors are durable and easy to clean, they can also cause stress to the legs and hooves if stood on for long periods of time. For this reason, it is important to consider alternative flooring surfaces in the barn in which cows are housed. Free stall barns offer many flooring options. These include reclaimed rubber belting, rolled rubber, rubber mats and pour-in-place rubber flooring.

Alternative flooring material reduces stress to the cows’ hooves and legs. However, the alternative flooring must be maintained and correctly cared for. The chosen alternative flooring material must be durable. Since the cows are going to spend the majority of their time on this floor, the material must be able to withstand the force from the hooves. Rubber mats can be added the holding pen and in front of the feed bunks to provide extra comfort for the cows. Rubber mats are also used in free stalls. Sawdust or sand must be added on top of the rubber mats. Both sawdust and sand absorb urine which will aid in the cleanliness of the footing. Under the mats should be a well-drained subgrade. This subgrade helps eliminate excess liquid. While rubber mats are comfortable and convenient, they must be replaced often.

Overall, flooring is important for many reasons. The type of flooring chosen for both the holding pens as well as the free stall barn can either cause or help prevent lameness. The wrong floor may cause stress to the cow, which can affect feed and water intake which eventually leads to an economic loss. Concrete grooves must be chosen carefully in order to prevent slippage. Anti-slip reagents can also be added to prevent slippage and also lengthen the life of the concrete floor. Rubber mats are comfortable for free stall barns, however do not last as long and must be replaced when needed.

Overall, it is important to explore every option before choosing the best flooring option for you.