There are many publications out there about lameness, and how bad tracks and bad animal handling cause lameness, that we regularly get asked the question “what do you think is the best surface material for tracks?” Even though the claims of the above are, in principal, correct, it seems that most people don’t have a clear understanding of what it is about bad tracks and animal handling that increases the prevalence of lameness.
Often the explanation goes something like this: ‘when cows stand on stones they get bruising in their hooves and that makes them lame’. If you push cows on tracks and they can’t see where they put their front feet then they encounter more stones causing more bruising and therefore more lameness.
When you improve the tracks and you stop pushing cows you do end up with less lameness and so this theory seems very plausible. The problem with this explanation is that it is based on assumption and there is no evidence to support it. I agree that improving tracks and animal handling decreases the prevalence of lameness. But what I am saying is that there is no evidence that the stones are the culprit. If you are interested in doing a hoof trimming course with us I can show evidence for the opposite.
So, if it is not the stones on the track that is the problem, then what is it?
Well, it has a lot to do with stress. The reason why cows are under more stress on bad tracks is that it takes longer to get to and from the cowshed which means that they spend less time in the paddock doing cow things. When you look at a well fed herd in the paddock, cows are grazing, drinking, socialising or lying down. This is normal, natural behaviour for a cow. When cows are walking on the tracks or standing on the yard they are not showing any of that ‘normal’ behaviour. This means that cows are being forced to take on activities that are not natural to them. This, in itself, is not a problem as most cows adapt themselves to that routine, but, if you force them to do it for a long time it will become a problem. If you have muddy tracks or there are a lot of stones on the track you will find the cow flow a lot slower therefore this increases the time out of the paddock and places more stress on your cows. The added stress of pushing cows will make it even worse.
So, when I am asked what surface material I would advise for the tracks I say concrete. Concrete is easy to clean, it doesn’t hold puddles, cows don’t sink into it and it doesn’t need sunshine to dry up. You may think this is a ludicrous suggestion, but some of our clients that have done it love it. I know it is expensive, but in the long run it is probably the cheapest option. If you can find a material that is as hardy as concrete go for it. Just remember – the main aim is to get cows back in the paddock as fast as possible in a stress free manner.