What to look for to make tracks
By Jessica Buss
COW tracks, installed to the Milk Development Councils design, are kinder to cows feet. However track width, stone depth, fencing and entrances to fields may benefit from improvement, according to an MDC study.
Consultant Hamish Anderson inspected tracks installed to the MDC design, using Terram membranes, drainage stone and bark peelings, and spoke to producers to assess benefits and drawbacks.
He believes tracks are beneficial to profitable dairy cow management. His report concludes that they are cost-effective, reducing direct and indirect costs of clinical and sub-clinical foot damage.
The main criticism levelled by producers at this design of track was high maintenance requirement and cost. However, he says that he cannot uphold this criticism.
"Any hard-working environment or machine will need attention to sustain optimum working conditions so that cost is acceptable and justified," stresses Mr Anderson. He found that producers accepted routine maintenance was needed and believe it was money well spent.
Width and depth of the base layer in areas where free-draining ground is available were areas selected by Mr Anderson for on-farm improvement. "Design and installation of track fencing or edging – and cow-to-track entry areas – should be given more attention to help prevent contamination of the bark surface with soil."
Producers also thought fencing the track was critical. "They feel fencing should be placed as near to track edges as possible to stop cows trampling soil onto the track," concludes Mr Anderson.
Two dairies visited in the study reported better cow foot health, while a third, which had not installed tracks with the aim of reducing lameness, has found that cows are cleaner.
While one of the dairies, Reaseheath College, found cows walk to fields more quickly on tracks, two other producers believe a wider track allowing two cows to pass would be beneficial.
Reseheath College also reported high maintenance costs – mostly because tracks are worked hard. However, farm manager Sam Grundy says that they must be maintained properly, and estimates that annual maintenance costs about £1.50/m.