Innovations in Cow Comfort

Published on Fri, 11/05/2021 - 1:41pm

Innovations in Cow Comfort

 By Maura Keller.

 It goes without saying that the more comfortable a dairy cow is, the higher the productivity. And while the majority of dairy farmers focus on establishing the proper environs for dairy production, including clean milking equipment, safe and secure cubicles, and high-quality feed, what’s underfoot can also great impact the well-being and overall productivity of dairy cows.

As Gil Monnier, service marketer at ID Group explains, cattle mats are not new but for in the last decade products have evolved along with the farmers’ needs. “Years ago, farmers were installing cattle mats to make daily cleaning easier and to use less straw – which is still a good reason to use cattle mats in cubicles. But nowadays cows’ comfort and well-being have become a top priority for dairy producers.”

IDS Agriculture, part of the ID Group manufactures a wide range of cattle mats and flooring and is divided in three sections: cubicle mats for a better comfort when cows are resting in the barn, rubber flooring for the walking areas, and rubber mats for milking parlors. IDS has developed a product range for agriculture in order to provide solutions to improve cattle comfort and prevent injuries risks but also to secure infrastructures.

As Monnier, service marketer at ID Group explains, it has been proven by studies that a cow’s well-being is directly linked to higher productivity and that every minute cows spend resting in the cubicles, means more milk at the end of the day.

“This is why our products have evolved to be more comfortable, using, for example, the same natural latex foam used in memory shape mattresses,” Monnier says. Overall IDS’ main features of their products include bringing cows comfort and security so they can produce more milk.

“We choose the best raw materials such as natural rubber and latex to offer high-quality products that will last in time,” Monnier says.  

Rubber flooring for walking areas and milking parlors are also a good improvement for cow’s security. As Monnier explains, thanks to their non-slip surface they provide better stability when cows are walking from cubicles to the feedlot or when they go to the milking parlor.

“Cows are less likely to fall, which is unfortunately a major cause of euthanasia, so they move more freely and they express more natural behaviors making it easier to spot heats,” Monnier says.

Bruce Thompson with Animat says mats in general have evolved over the years in several areas, these include surface texture, rubber formulation, interlock configuration, and mat thickness.

“Animat has limited changes in our mats to the formulation of the actual rubber specific to the location and purpose for which it is intended to be used,” Thompson says. “One formulation is used for horse barns and most center walk applications since the demand placed on the rubber in those locations is less severe than in dairy and beef applications, due to the lack of heavy equipment in those areas. The surface texture may vary as well in areas where increased traction is a primary concern.” Animat offers three different surface textures to choose from to fit different applications and produces individual interlocking or non-interlocking mats for walkways, holding pens, cow platforms in the parlor, feed lanes, slatted floor barns, horse barns, maternity pens, working areas, and center walks in tie stall barns. These mats are produced from 100% recycled rubber which makes for a very stable product that is 100% waterproof.

Animat also produces a single stall solid rubber mat in either interlocking or non-interlocking versions for both free stall and tie stall barns.

Thompson says the type of interlocks can vary depending on the degree of locking strength required in different applications. One example of this would be in long cow platforms (2x30, 2x40, 2x50, etc.) where cow  loading speed and turning in parallel parlors requires that the mats be unanchored and yet still stay in place with limited stretching.

“This application benefits from using our exclusive ‘3D’ interlocking mats which provide both lateral and vertical interlocking strength vs a normal lateral only strength when the mats are pinned to the floor like a feed lane or transfer lane,” Thompson says.

Key Considerations
When selecting cattle mats for their operations, Monnier says farmers should look for the best comfort and price compromise possible. It is also beneficial to understand the variety of cattle mats available, including plain rubber, as well as rubber mats with latex foam inside.

“For us the best compromise is mats with a latex foam inside,” Monnier says. “They offer a very good comfort with a thick memory shape latex foam, and a good durability thanks to their rubber surface. Good cubicle mats are to be considered as an investment on your cows’ well-being and their milk production.”
Thompson also advises that there are several things that are a “must” to consider:

1. What is the problem you are trying to solve? What are your expectations?
2. How is this area to be cleaned? Flushed? Scraped with tractor/tire? Alley scraper?
3. What type of bedding is to be used to bed your stalls?
4. How are the stalls going to be bedded? Machinery involved?
5. Who will be in charge of keeping the mats clean?

“The dairyman should talk with other users of this product and discuss their experiences with the product and the company they purchased it from,” Thompson says. Were their expectations met or are they unhappy with their selection? If they had problems with the product, did the manufacturer/dealer stand behind the product? Was the written warranty an accurate portrayal of the resolution of a problem? Does the individual sales person have a thorough understanding of the product and its applications to your operation and your needs, necessary to make a recommendation?

“All of these things can make or break your experience when using mats to increase cow comfort, cow performance, keep maintenance and repairs to a minimum, and your satisfaction with the finished installation,” Thompson says.

Proper cleaning and maintenance is required for cattle mats to work effectively. That said, most of IDS Agriculture’s mats comes with a 10-year warranty, but they can last longer than this if they are used in good conditions.

“It also depends if cows are in the barn all year round or if they only are inside for winter,” Monnier says. “Our mats are made of natural rubber. This high-quality material has the advantage of being very resistant to wear and being durable.”

While experts agree that there are no big mistakes that can happen when selecting a cattle mat, producers need to make sure that the product they choose is compatible with their equipment and with their dairy practice. For example mats for free stalls and tie stalls are not the same. Your local dealer can help you to choose the right product for your farm.

“When installing cattle mats in your cubicles, we recommend to make sure that the cubicles are well set to fit your cow’s dimensions,” Monnier says. “It’s important for your cow’s comfort, but also to make sure that they are correctly positioned on the mats.”

Thompson points out that producers tend to get caught up in pricing discussions and not performance applications. They assume all mats are created equal and that all companies are being open and above-board. Or, they look at the mats/mattresses as a small part of their over plan to remodel or build new construction and don’t consider all the variables that must be addressed involving rubber mats and mattresses.
“They may just assume the builder is using the right product and they get what they get. That way of thinking can have very negative results,” Thompson says. “Also, the method of installation must be site-specific based on how each producer is maintaining the areas where the mats are to be installed. That simple fact can be the difference between success and failure with an installation.”

Simple, Economical and Environmentally Friendly
When Gail Foxworthy, along with his wife Susan, owners of Foxworthy Supply, Inc. in Kent City, Michigan, developed their Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat, they did so with the goal of saving dairy farmers time and money, while also providing a cleaner and more comfortable environment for dairy cows. In addition, limiting the environmental impact that often results with traditional cattle mats was paramount.

“We designed our mat with holes that are two-and-a-half inches at the top tapered to two inches at the bottom,” Foxworthy says. Specifically, the Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat’s goal is to act as a substrate barrier reducing up to 50% of the sand or pack used in the bedding process.

“The cows cannot dig holes in their beds anymore,” Foxworthy says. Traditionally, stalls using deep-bedded sand, result in cows pawing holes into their beds. These types of stalls need to be consistently maintained to ensure proper hygiene for the cows – requiring additional time, effort and cost on the part of the dairy farmer and their employees. As Foxworthy explains, the Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat eliminates the cows’ need to dig holes in their beds.

“In addition, sand is the number one preferred bedding by cows but it has its issues. It is very abrasive to anything it touches, but cows love it so we came up with this idea,” Foxworthy says. With the reduction of sand in the manure, the Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat  results in reduced sand build up in lagoons, less wear and tear on equipment and less sand being spread in the field.  
In addition to using less sand, which is a nonrenewable resource, Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mats are also manufactured from non-degradable post-production rubber materials that would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators.

“These features and benefits make the Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat the best in class around the world, for your cows, Mother Earth, and dairymen,” Foxworthy says.

According to Kelly Oudenhoven at Larrand Dairy in DePere, WI, her dairy farm’s  employees “love the mat because it eliminates any raking or stall maintenance.” And Dan Gogel, at Gogel Dairy in St. Meinrad, IN says, “seeing my cows all lay down and comfortable is well worth the investment.” And Doug Harre of Wilra Dairy & Grain, Nashville, IL chose the Bedding $aver®/Planet $aver® Mat for his new barn “because it basically eliminates any labor and has great longevity.”

Alternatives Flooring Options
While cattle mats are a core component of the flooring of any diary operation, so too are the concrete slats gracing dairy buildings. Often found underneath rubber cattle mats, properly constructed concrete slats offers a viable way of ensuring animal safety and the cleanliness of a facility.

According to Rachel Voelker at Wieser Concrete, like cattle mats, the benefits of concrete slats includes cleaner livestock, maximizing manure value, textured footing, reduced odor, no machinery maintenance, labor savings, manure is out of sight and safely contained, and it saves valuable land.

Wieser Concrete slats are machine made offering consistent quality for smoothness, finish and texture. The dri-cast slats are vibrated and compacted in the forms creating an 8,000 PSI product. All Wieser Concrete slats are produced with a ½” wear surface for extended service life.

Wieser Concrete offers cattle slats, calf slats, and drive-thru slats. When selecting a slat, considering the size of cattle is very important.

“Our cattle slats are 6 inches thick, have 1 ¾” slat openings and come in varying lengths – 6’, 8’, 10’, or 12’. Our calf slats are 6 inches thick with either a 1” or 1 ¼” opening and are 12’ long,” Voelker says. We offer both cattle drive-thru slats and calf drive-thru slats. Our drive thru slats are 9 ½ inches thick and come in varying lengths. The drive thru slats are engineered to handle 48,000 pounds per axel load.”

Secure footing is vital for the safety and well-being of dairy cows. As such, Wieser Concrete has updated their production equipment, allowing the company to add texture to our slats.

“This texture provides additional traction to the cows or helps the rubber mats stay in place,” Voelker says.

When evaluating the type of concrete slat to incorporate under cattle mats, producers should focus on the quality of the product. Longevity in the industry and reputation for producing solid concrete products is paramount. For example, Wieser Concrete has been manufacturing slats since 1970s.

“Producers should look for a company that will stand behind their product and have experience producing consistent, high-quality product,” Voelker says.

Like the longevity of cattle mats, producers should evaluate the average lifespan of the concrete slats on which the mats may reside. Wieser Concrete’s slats do not require any maintenance and last for many years.

“We have slatted barns that are 40+ years old and still operating,” Voelker says. “A great way to make the best possible decision is to tour other farms and ranches that already have a slatted barn. Tour slatted barns installed by different companies and talk with those farmers to see if they are happy with the quality of the product they have. When installing a slatted barn, quality of the product is the number one factor to consider.”