There is an abundance of research that has established soft flooring improves livestock welfare and increases production and profit.
But two recent real-life examples have really brought home the role flooring plays in cow comfort and welfare.
In the first instance, a livestock carrier replaced the mesh flooring in his truck with heavy-duty rubber matting and has been impressed by the results.
The new matting is quieter, gives the cows more secure footing and is easy to clean.
The carrier also placed rubber matting on his metal loading ramps, because having a shiny and noisy metal surface was frequently causing cattle to baulk.
Rubber matting, which has a similar look to a dirt floor and feels secure underfoot, gives the cattle confidence that what they are walking on is sound.
The carrier found the rubber matting inside his truck made the cattle more comfortable; they were less likely to turn around once loaded, and made much less noise. In fact, he said they moved around so little during transport and were so quiet, he actually had to get out and check that everything was okay.
Other benefits he observed included: the cattle were less stressed; there was less manure deposited in his truck; and the new matting was fast and easy to clean.
The combined results mean his animals are calmer to load and transport, are less stressed, and there is time saved with faster and easier cleaning.
The end result is happier cows and a happier carrier.
In the second instance, a farmer had an ongoing issue with cattle having to be pushed past an area in his new dairy with a poor exit design.
It’s a familiar story — the dairy has narrow right-angle corners with a deep drain, which caused the cows to stop and hold up the herd from leaving the dairy.
The farmer had to constantly leave the parlour to push animals out; and then, to avoid stepping on the drain, they leapt over it and often slipped.
Rubber matting will not fix the poor design of the drain, but by placing matting either side of the drain the cows will at least have more confidence in their footing and perhaps step over it more easily by themselves.
Even if they still hurdle the obstacle, they will have a more secure landing and much less chance of injury.
Unfortunately, a lot of cattle infrastructure is a compromise between the constraints of an area, or budget, and cow behaviour.
Rubber matting can be a cheap way to resolve concreted engineering problems causing issues with cow flow and slipping.
The latest well-designed rubber matting is durable, lasting up to 10 years — or four years in high traffic areas — and that could equal four years of more comfortable and calmer cows, less slipping and fewer injuries.
Are there areas in your system that would benefit from better flooring?
Perhaps you can experiment with small areas to see for yourself the advantages of more comfortable animals, at a lower risk of injury.
dairy services northern regional
manager, Agriculture Victoria