23 August 1996

Right roads to keeping herds comfy & healthy

Summer is the time to work on farm tracks to ensure cows comfortable and easy access to fields.

Jessica Buss found some tracks that pass the test at Reaseheath College.

COW-FRIENDLY tracks desig- ned for cow comfort using a special membrane to improve drainage have proved effective in an 18-month trial at Reaseheath College, Nantwich, Cheshire.

There are now over 20 miles of this track around the country, claims dairy consultant John Hughes who designed it (see panel). Gateways and water trough areas were also constructed to the same design. He and fellow researcher Bill Faull have continually inspected surfaces and monitored cow behaviour as part of a Milk Development Council-funded trial.

The big saving, claims Mr Hughes is a reduction in lameness caused by white line abscesses.

The 1m (3.3ft) track cost £18-20/m (£5-6/ft) in contractor charges and materials. But as Mr Hughes points out the outlay can be halved by using farm labour and machinery. A typical gateway can cost £200 to install.

When budgets are limited, Mr Hughes advises trying the design on the wettest or stoniest 200-300m (220-330yd) of track.

Tracks will need some maintenance, he adds. The unmaintained tracks used by the 130 cows at Reaseheath almost every day of the grazing season have taken 18 months to reveal the membrane. Now these must be topped.

Mr Hughes advises topping-up the wood peelings on the track once a year and raking the overspilt peelings back over the track occasionally.

"The long wood peelings cross and form a support for the cows feet," he says. "It looks coarse at first but the cows go straight onto it and it soon beds down."

Mr Hughes finds other toppings fail; bark breaks down too quickly, cows feet go through wood chips and cows dont like walking on soft sand.

Quarry dust is also no good. It survived last summers dry period well but in the wet it floods and cows feet go through and damage the membrane.

Tracks only need to be 1m (3.3ft) wide but for short tracks a 1.5m (5ft) width allows cows to overtake or walk in double-file.

"Be patient and resist the temptation to push up the last cows with a tractor so they cannot get onto the track," he says. "Once they get on the track, they move faster and freely without worry."

He is also keen that tractors and cow tracks are kept separate. Producers who have a track for cows and tractors have found putting a cow-track between two concrete strips works well.

But when the cow-track runs alongside the tractor-track hedges must be kept trimmed, he warns. "Unless hedges are cut back, cows wont use the track. They wont even walk through thistles and nettles."


BURY THE EDGES

Membrane edges must be put under turf or they get pulled up, says Mr Hughes.

"Pull the turf back for 6 inches and lay both membranes under the turf. This stops them being dragged up by cows feet and supports the topping, holding it in place."

Water trough and gateway areas must not be built up. Keep them level with the field or the peelings will spread out, especially when bulling cows use the soft surface as a playpen.

The preferred topping around troughs is also wood peelings but even these fail if the trough leaks.

"It is also better to keep water troughs away from gateways," he says.


COWTRAX

Dig out the area to 0.75m (2.5ft). Pull back the turf for a further 15cm (6in). Line the base and sides with Terrams Farmtrax membrane (place a drainage pipe on the membrane in wetter areas). Fill with 0.55m (22in) of 37-50mm (1.5-2in) stone aggregate. Cover with the thicker Terram Cowtrax membrane. Pull the turf back to bury the edges of the membrane. Add 10cm (4in) of Cundy wood peelings. Rake occasionally and top up peelings about once a year. For a gateway excavate a 6m (20ft) surround.

Terram 01495-767411, Wood peelings, M and B Supplies, Stoke-on-Trent 01782-598383.

Consultant John Hughes advises that tracks are covered with long wood peelings that support cows feet. Quarry dust, bark, wood chips and soft sand are not effective toppings. Peelings must be topped up annually.