15 September 1995

FIBRE PATHS ARE KINDER

TO COWS FEET

CUBICLE DESIGN NEEDS BIG IDEAS

For those that havent yet done so, theres still time to sort out roadways and cubicles design. Independent dairying consultant John Hughes offers valuable advice. Jessica Buss reports

DAIRY cows are getting bigger. In fact the small cubicles built 25 years ago are now handicapping performance of modern cows.

That is the finding of Liverpool Vet School-based independent dairy consultant John Hughes and researcher Bill Faull. It has prompted them to advocate a redesign of the cow cubicle.

Ideally cubicles should allow the cow to lie stretched out and to ruminate for up to six hours – as she would outside. "If the cow has to stand to ruminate she will spend longer stood in slurry, causing extra stress on her feet and increasing the risk of lameness," says Mr Hughes.

He claims cubicle rejection is caused by small cubicles. Tying animals into them is no answer.

The cow needs a cubicle to match her length so she can lie down comfortably, he says. That means cubicles must be 2.4m (8ft) long (see diagram below).

A reduction to 2.15m (7ft 6in) is possible when space can be shared with cubicles facing each other – provided there is only one front rail and that is at 1.13m (3ft 9in), he adds.

"The cubicle width must allow the cows tummy to spread," he stresses. "Soft beds allow their stomachs spread down – with concrete beds there must be more width."

However, to stop the cow lying at an angle and wetting the bed a flexible lower division of taught rope should replace a conventional solid rail, and a cubicle width of 1.13m (3ft 9in) is needed.

Mr Hughes recommends placing a fillet of concrete at the front of the cubicle to prevent cows standing or lying too far forward and wetting the bed.

"Sleepers or a brisket rail can be used, but the concrete fillet designed by farmer Robert Targett of Castle Cary, Somerset, is much more successful."

That removes the need for a head-rail and allows the cow to stand in the cubicle, with her feet out of the slurry.

To enable the cow to find her balance to lie down and stand she needs to be able to swing her head from side to side and lunge forward.

The height of the lunging space is critical – which is why the metal cubicle divisions and front rail need to be the right height. If they are not the cow will push the bedding off the rear of the bed. The height of the rail also prevents cows turning.

According to Mr Hughes, soft-cushioned mats are essential if cows are to lie in comfort and to avoid hock and knee sores.

"Fresh sawdust should be spread on the mats twice a day to keep them dry," he says. "With solid rubber mats milk fat and urine will produce a thin layer of melted rubber and mats become slippery when not treated well with bedding."

The cubicle bed also needs to slope to the passage to drain freely and keep the bed clean. That enables milk leakage – which seems to be more of a problem in higher yielding cows – and urine to drain away, he adds.

Striking a balance between a low cow-friendly kerb and one high enough to keep cubicles slurry free is not easy.

When 2.4m (8ft) passages are only scraped twice a day the kerb height needs to be high. But that can cause foot problems to the cows. However, if the passage is made wider there may be too little liquid to scrape passages clean.

Mr Hughes recommends an ideal kerb height of 12.5cm (5in) for slatted passages. For scraped passages the height should be as near 12.5cm (5in) as possible, depending on the frequency of scraping.

&#8226 Remove bottom horizontal solid rails and replace with ropes.

&#8226 Cut out vertical rails between the front and back rail.

&#8226 Remove head rails.

&#8226 Reduce 25cm (10in) kerb heights to as near 10cm (5in) as possible by filling passage with concrete.

&#8226 Add a wooden sleeper to the back of short cubicles.

&#8226 Provide sufficient cushioning in the bed to avoid damage to the cows knees and hocks.

USING stone to improve muddy areas around gateways and water-troughs proves temporary and leaves a poor surface for cows feet.

So says dairy consultant John Hughes.

Cows walking on such poor surfaces are more prone to white line abscesses, he says. These allow dirt and stones to puncture the feet, causing lameness.

Mr Hughes has helped develop an alternative to stone for improving surfaces prone to poaching. It is being trialled on farm and at Reaseheath College, Cheshire.

"The key to improving these areas is the use of Terram Farmtrax and Cowtrax fibres," he says. "These allow water to escape and prevent stone rising."

In Reaseheath trials the poached areas were dug out to a depth of 0.75m (2ft 6in).

The base and sides of the hole were lined with Terram Farmtrax and filled with 0.55m (22in) of 37-50mm (1.5-2in) stone aggregate (see diagram above). A thicker Terram Cowtrax membrane was placed over the stone and spread with 10cm (4in) of wood-chip for cows to walk on.

Although the wood-chip is a better surface for the cow to walk on, when tractors will be driving on the surface Mr Hughes advises replacing the wood-chip over the top membrane with sand or quarry dust. The membrane could be the thinner Farmtrax version when a sand covering is used.

In very wet areas or under water troughs he recommends laying a drain pipe over the lower Terram membrane so it drains away water.

"By treating the area which normally gets poached or trampled, you can stop the gateway sinking and you dont get an extension of the poached area," says Mr Hughes. &#42


REVAMPYOURCUBICLES

"Cubicle width must allow the cows tummy to spread" – John Hughes.