Lameness is detrimental to animal welfare and fertility, (if in pain cows show heat less) and it is one of the three main reasons for involuntary culling. When dairy cows are confined, as in a free stall system, their feet (when standing) and legs (when lying) are affected by wear, trauma, and by microorganisms. The cow’s ability to rest, stand and walk must be optimized. Christer Bergsten’s recommendations are to: emphasize barn hygiene and check for possible traps that can cause injuries. Reduce unnecessary exposure of feet and legs to hard, abrasive and unhygienic floors. Reduce waiting time for milking. Provide enough space at the manger and feed for all cows 24 hours/day. Invest in soft resilient flooring with rubber of excellent quality. Invest in drainage by sloping solid floors with cleansing urine canals. Preferably invest in slatted rubber and scrapers.
(This article belongs to the proceedings from the Cow Longevity Conference 2013 that took place at Hamra farm, Sweden in August 2013)
Take home message
Invest in Management:
1. Look after hygiene, management of floors and possible traps for traumatic injuries.
2. Reduce unnecessary exposure of feet and legs to hard, abrasive and unhygienic floors by excellent cow comfort with one cubicle per cow
3. Reduce wait-time for milking
4. Provide enough space at the manger and feed for all cows 24 hours every day.
Longtime take home message; invest in Construction:
1. Invest in soft resilient flooring with rubber of excellent quality.
2. Invest in drainage of urine on solid floors by sloping floors with cleansing urine canals.
3. Preferably invest in rubber, matted, slatted flooring with scrapers, traditional or robotic.
4. Invest in feed stalls with rubber mats.
5. Prepare firm and water drainable exits and gateways to pasture.
High yielding dairy cows are housed for most of the year, most of their production cycle, or most of their life. When dairy cows are confined, as in a free stall system, their feet (when standing) and legs (when lying) are influenced in several ways: wear, trauma, loading, and by microorganisms especially if the hygiene is poor. Moreover, exposure for environmental risk factors are also important and therefore cow traffic is of concern in the planning. Even if the lying area is of outmost importance it cannot compensate for poor flooring because animals still have to move around to socialize, to feed and to be milked. The ability for each specific function such as resting, standing and walking must, therefore, be optimized. That means a soft yielding floor with, enough friction to reduce claw over growth yet preventing over wear and avoiding poor hygiene by ensuring as dry and clean floors as possible. Although optional, some kind of foot wash is beneficial.
Longevity of all food animals is of outmost importance for the economic benefit of a production unit as well as for animal welfare. Secondly, longevity it is also beneficial for the climate and to reduce the effects of green house gases (GHG) by improved efficacy. Basal metabolism of each animal contributes to GHG independent of production level. Higher production will be more environmental efficient. Likewise, a prolonged production life will reduce replacement. A reduction of replacement from the average 37% to 22% reduced GHG by almost half (McGeough et al., 2013). Most involuntary culling is caused by production diseases such as infertility, metabolic diseases and mastitis. Lameness resulting from foot and leg disease is the most common cause of death or euthanasia. An investment in preventive measures to reduce mortality or looser cows can rapidly be paid off. Thomsen et al. (2007) found that loser cows were 10 times more likely to be found in herds with hard cubicle bedding and zero grazing in comparison to soft bedding and grazing during summer. Burow et al. (2011) found a 50% reduction of mortality in large grazing herds with automatic milking systems and a reduction of 75% in grazing conventional herds compared with zero grazing. Moreover, longer grazing times reduced mortality while free choice of grazing in grazed herds in comparison to forced, increased mortality. These results indicate that ground properties of pasture may have an influence of cows´ longevity. Excessive ammonium emission is very common in barns for production animals and also for cattle. An attempt to reduce ammonia in a tie stall barn by means of established technique was very successful for the environment and also for the health of animals in a Swedish study (Gustafsson et al., 2005). Urine was separated both in the stall (Hultgren and Bergsten, 2001) as in the manure gutter and claw diseases were clearly reduced as was mastitis. Reducing ammonium emission both indoors and outdoors is beneficial both for environment and for health.
Exposure, cow traffic
These boots are made for walking Nancy Sinatra sang. Man protects his feet with orthopedic shoes when walking and running on hard surfaces and horse protect their hooves from overwear by iron shoes. Should cows protect their feet with shoes as well or are the claws strong enough to withstand environmental challenges by avoiding them? Maybe it is preferable to make floors more suitable for walking.
Flooring depends not only on quality and it's properties, as discussed below, it also depends on exposure of the claws and legs for the floors. Exposure can be expressed by different means ie. time budgets. Firstly, comfort of lying area, space and softness influence lying time. Since the cow rests 40-60% of the day, the other 60-40 % of the day is spent standing on the feet for different activities such as moving to feed, to milking etc. Any decrease in lying time will have an adverse effect on feet and threaten claw health if alley flooring is poor (Cook and Nordlund, 2009; Leonard et al., 1994). Cook et al. (2004) showed that cows with non-sand bedding lay down less than those in stalls bedded with sand. Cook (2003) also showed that a more comfortable bedding (ie. sand) reduced lameness compared to other surfaces and that tie stalls over all (sand bedding or mats) had less lameness than free stalls. These studies not only showed that lying time is important but also that the exposure to different flooring systems plays a role, for example, tie stalls gave, over-all, less lameness than did free stalls. Bergsten and Frank (1996) showed that first calving heifers that were tied on rubber mats had less sole hemorrhages and sole ulcers than those on concrete 12 weeks after calving. No time budget was made so it is not clear whether this was the effect of standing on concrete in comparison to rubber or the result from longer lying because of more comfortable rubber mats? Another effect of prolonged exposure could be overstocking. Leonard et al. (1996) showed that overstocking by two heifers per stall increased standing time, lameness and sole horn lesions. Cow traffic means the availability of different resources for the cows. Cow traffic should reduce the risk for competitive interactions between cows for milking, feeding, drinking and finding the resting place.
Hardness, friction and slipperiness
Undoubtedly, grazing on well maintained pasture is best for cows feet . But, most high producing cows are kept inside on concrete. In Sweden grazing is mandatory and it was found in a study that the highest risk, up to 10 times, for a recorded claw lesion in autumn after grazing, was if the animal had a similar lesion before grazing. Thus independent of grazing or not, the environment of housed cows had a greater influence than that of the grazing itself (Bergsten, 2012).
Concrete is the most common base for floors in cubicles and alleys and the alleys are either slatted or solid and scraped. Concrete has advantages and disadvantages, such as abrasiveness of new concrete (Mason et al., 2012) and slipperiness of older worn concrete. The disadvantage of slipperiness with aging concrete has to be calculated for, when planning a cow house. Grooving the hard concrete is normally better than tamping pattern in the fresh green concrete. When pressing a pattern, grooves are not satisfactorily sharp and after some years the flooring is less comfortable compared to that in which grooves are cut with sharp edges. Today, concrete flooring can be covered with materials such as rubber or mastic asphalt which alter the growth and wear of claw horn. Mastic asphalt has very good frictional properties but the wear off rate (abrasion) could be too high. Telezhenko et al. (2009) investigated growth and wear of claws on different flooring systems, concrete, mastic asphalt and rubber, and found that the growth was dependant and altered with wear. Thus the cow adapts, but it will take some time to adapt and meanwhile lesions and lameness can occur. The slipperiness of the rubber matting of floors depends on the rubber quality and softness of rubber. If rubber is hard and smooth, it can be as slippery as smooth concrete. Abrasiveness is not the same as friction because a soft mat gives a grip because the foot is compressing the yielding surface. In a locomotion study comparing 6 different floorings with different surface and structure, locomotion was best and friction highest with rubber floors (Telezhenko et al., 2008). However, in this study three of the concrete floors were newly cast and frictions didn´t differ very much between them even with different surface grooving. Dry, humid or frozen dirt will cause slipperiness on all floor types. A new type of wearing rubber has been developed which changes the manner of wear to be more even compared to a hard wearing surfaces (Telezhenko and Bergsten, 2011).
The introduction of softer alleys with rubber surface has improved walking comfort of cows (Flower et al., 2007; Telezhenko and Bergsten, 2005; Telezhenko et al., 2007) and resulted in less laminitis related claw diseases (Vanegas et al., 2006). Telezhenko et al. (2007) and also showed that dairy cows had a preference of 80% both for standing and for walking on rubber compared to concrete.
In an one study, first calving heifers were housed on slatted concrete or slatted rubber mats during their first lactation (Bergsten et al., 2011). The cows on concrete were 3,5 times more likely to be lame than the cows on slatted rubber floors. Sole ulcers, and hemorrhages of the white line and sole were the most prominent disorders causing lameness. Most surprisingly, however, was that cows on slatted concrete also had more leg lesions. Hock ulceration and swelling was more than twice as common in cows walking on slatted concrete. This can be explained by the longer lying time of lame cows or more activity (less lying) of cows housed on rubber. This study followed the heifers from one year before their first calving on soft (deep straw pack) or hard (concrete or rubber stalls). Those calves from soft bedding coming to hard concrete floors after calving had higher prevalence of and more severe claw lesions than those reared in hard stalls coming to soft floors after calving. Hygiene
Hygienic properties of the floors are independent of the softness. In contrast, rubber absorbs less humidity than concrete and is thus less buffering of the humidity (Ahrens et al., 2011). All types of floors have to separate urine to reduce ammonia emission (Vaddella et al., 2010). This is certainly most easily made with slatted flooring where urine is separated instantly. Also, most of manure is drained through the slats depending on design of slats, manure consistence, cow traffic and presence of scrapers or not. Urine can also be separated and drained on solid floors if the floors are sloped to a midway parallel canal. Scraping of solid floors is dependent on efficiency and frequency. It is contra preventive for claw health if a tsunami of manure flushes the feet when scraping. Using feed-stalls protect the feet from dirt and if equipped with rubber provides a soft flooring (Fregonesi et al., 2004) when feeding. Feed stalls allow the cows to survive the tsunami. Scrapers are also efficient on slatted flooring and in robot milking systems, robotic scrapers are becoming more common and improve claw health and stall hygiene because less dirt is transported in to the stall (Magnusson et al., 2008).
Foot bathing can prevent and treat infectious claw diseases but are difficult to manage. Copper sulphate in different concentrations has been widely used and is the only solution with documented effect besides formalin (Bergsten et al., 2006; Holzhauer et al., 2012; Thomsen et al., 2008). Because of environment and health concerns with copper and formalin, respectively, alternatives are needed. Also the old way of foot bathing has to be developed into easier systems to wash and treat feet. New foot washing systems are under development with promising results. Thomsen et al. (2012) showed that only washing feet with water reduced digital dermatitis by30% and if soap was added in the washer the reduction was 50%. Washing feet automatically is most likely “the” method for the future. If skin is clean bacteria will starve to death and the possibility for disinfecting substances to act is better than today’s walk through foot baths which are depending on heavy metals or formalin, which are un wanted substances.
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