The surface upon which a cow walks obviously has the greatest influence on any injuries that might occur and how foot infections can spread. Surfaces which cows are housed upon - most likely concrete - can have an important role in the mobility issues affecting the herd.
Well-designed concrete surfaces can provide a comfortable, clean environment for dairy cattle, as long as lying areas are comfortable enough to be voluntarily used by cows, the correct falls have been included to allow drainage and prevent slurry pooling, and floor surfaces are kept clear of slurry by the use of routine scraping or slatted-floor systems. However, there is particular scope for poor floors to be potential trouble areas, particularly in older housing:
- Broken, cracked, eroded or otherwise damaged concrete floor surfaces found in buildings, yards and sometimes in the tracks that cows use to access grazing can easily cause abrasion of the sole - leading to foot problems like sole bruising and sole ulcers - or be responsible for small wounds that can allow infection to enter the foot.
- Badly-designed or poorly-constructed concrete surfaces may not provide sufficient grip for cows. New concrete should be well-compacted to minimise wear during its lifetime and a light tamp at right angles to the direction of cattle traffic can provide a suitable non-slip finish. However, care should be taken not to create too pronounced a ridge that may cause foot damage.
- Old, worn concrete can be particularly smooth and slippery, which can lead to accidents causing sole bruising, in addition to foot and leg injuries. Sand bedding, while providing perfect conditions for cow comfort and mastitis control, can contribute to the accelerated wear of passageways.
- Poorly-constructed and damaged floor areas, where pot holes and dips exist in which liquid and slurry collect, are a source of infectious illness and standing in wet conditions can also contribute to the softening of hoof horn.
Grooving can improve worn but otherwise structurally-sound concrete surfaces. Grooves 6-10mm deep and 10mm wide - cut 40mm apart at right angles to the direction of cow traffic - can provide good results. Square or diamond shape grooves will only be beneficial in areas where cow movement is random. New concrete floor surfaces can also be grooved by specialist concrete-laying equipment; a hexagonal pattern is recommended to provide good slip-resistance combined with minimal pressure on the feet. The hexagon should have sides of 46mm with grooves 6-10mm deep and 10mm wide.
Rubberised flooring is becoming more commonplace as dairy farmers seek to improve cow comfort levels when housed.