Track quality can impact cows’ feet

AROUND 10 per cent of Australia’s dairy cows suffer from lameness each year.

Economically, the results of foot disease are much greater than the treatment costs. Reduced milk yield, lower reproductive performance, increased involuntary cull rates, discarded milk, and the additional labour costs to manage these cows accounts for the largest monetary loss.

Poor track maintenance and design can be a factor, but not the only one. A poorly maintained track does not guarantee you will get a high incidence of lameness.

In pasture based systems, a factor associated with an increased incidence of lameness is poor maintenance or condition of farm tracks. As dairy farms become larger, there is increased pressure on tracks, particularly those near the milking shed. Ideally, the milking shed would be located at a central point on the farm so as to minimise the distance the cows have to walk, but this is not always possible.

Many of the farm tracks used today were designed for herds that were much smaller than the current herd size; they are often too narrow, poorly drained and require excessive maintenance.

Cows would prefer to walk on a softer surface than a hard compacted clay-rock surface.

We can a better job of constructing practical farm tracks made of material that is readily available to us. Farm track construction is expensive, but it is better that the job be done correctly the first time so that subsequent maintenance costs are reduced and we build a surface that meets the needs of dairy herds.

Cow numbers will, in part, determine the type and extent of the work needed to build sound farm tracks. The bigger the herd, the greater the amount of work required to construct successful farm tracks.

When designing the layout of farm tracks, care should be taken to avoid right angle bends as these tend to slow cow movement. Similarly, gateways through which cows must pass, or culverts over which they must cross, must be of sufficient width so as to minimise any disruption with cow flow.

Steep gradients reduce the pace of stock movement. Excessive gradients also complicate design and construction of laneways, and increase the cost of construction and maintenance.

The layout of the farm track should be such that trees do not cause shading of the farm track. In such areas, drying does not occur and track breakdown is more likely.

Tracks require a relatively impermeable surface and transverse crown, so that rainfall is shed from the trafficking surface as quickly as possible. Table drains, culverts and bridges isolate the road surface from water flows. When the purpose of the track is to carry cows, an additional requirement is that it should not cause damage to the cows’ hooves.

Drains are required along either side of the farm track to prevent water seeping into the base from the surrounding ground. They must be correctly graded and the water must have somewhere to flow if the drains are to function correctly.

It is suggested that where possible the water table should be kept about 600mm below the track surface. This may mean material has to be bought in to form the track base.  Fence off the track drainage with electric fencing to keep cows out, while allowing drains to be cleaned.

The track should be crowned to shed water, with an average cross fall between three and six per cent and a suggested maximum of 10 per cent.

The timing of the track construction is important. Soils to be used in the construction should be moist, not wet (when bogging occurs) or dry (when soils will not compact).

The use of a suitable compacting device such as a vibrating roller greatly assists in the development of a suitable track base. The base of the track should be built up in layers not exceeding 150mm and each layer thoroughly compacted

The surface material of the track provides a suitable surface for the cows to walk on and should prevent seepage of water into the underlying track base. The surface material of the track should not be harmful to cows’ feet.

The ideal material is a mixture of gravel, sand and clay. The finer particles will fill the pores between the larger particles, binding the material and forming a hard wearing and relatively smooth surface.

Source: Agriculture Victoria (an edited version of an article by Jakob Malmo).

Take action: poorly maintained farm tracks can lead to sore feet in cows in pasture-based dairying systems. Photo: Facebook.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=24140

Posted by on Feb 20 2018. Filed under Rural News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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