Cattle Mats for Cow Comfort
Published on Thu, 10/15/2020 - 11:00am
Cattle Mats for Cow Comfort.
By Heather Smith Thomas.
Cattle in confinement, whether dairy or beef, often have issues with footing or bedding. Some of the traditional surfaces in feed yards, barns, stalls, etc. are abrasive and unforgiving. These problems can be resolved with mats that give better traction and footing, and more natural cushion for traveling or lying down. There are several companies that manufacture comfortable mats for cattle.
Easy Fix Mats
Doug Goodale is VP of Business Development for Easy Fix—a company that makes a variety of mats for livestock. “Our parent company is in Ireland and we market mats to more than 50 countries. I oversee the North American division that includes the U.S. and Canada. Our tagline is Animal Comfort,” he says.
“We have some of the highest quality and most innovative cattle mats in the business. Our beef deep pit mats are made from high quality natural rubber and we are the only company that makes a rubber slat that has a slope to it; every-other-slat opening is 100% open.” This provides better drainage and the manure goes away immediately.
“Beef cattle stay much cleaner on our product. We give a 5-year 100% warranty. These mats are fairly easy to install and very farmer-friendly,” says Goodale.
This company has been in business since 1996 in Ireland. “The owner saw cattle on concrete slats—and the trouble they had—and he used crumbles and glue and kept trying to make something to cover those slats, until he discovered something that worked,” Goodale explains.
For dairy bedding, Easy Fix makes mattresses and sand savers. “Typically the older types of dairy mattresses don’t last very long; they lose their cushion and elasticity. Ours are DLG certified, which is an international certification, to only lose 2% of their elasticity in 10 years. This gives the best of both worlds. These mattresses provide softness yet give quality and durability. They are made from natural rubber and make a fantastic product for areas where cattle spend time lying down. Cows tend to lie longer on our mattresses because they are more comfortable,” he says.
“We also believe in putting rubber flooring in the milking parlor. Parlor pit foam is also handy for dairy milkers to use. We’ve also had success putting rubber walkways in dairies,” says Goodale.
Out in a pasture, with natural footing, cattle stride out better than on a harder surface like concrete. Walking on pasture, the cow’s stride is about 40 centimeters long (about 15 to 16 inches) but their stride shortens about 20% on concrete. They take shorter steps because of poor traction, similar to walking on ice. There is more risk for slipping, and it’s also less comfortable.
Concrete is abrasive on feet and can cause injury or excessive wearing of hoof horn, especially at the toe.On rubber walkways, the cows’ stride is within 4 to 5 centimeters of what it is out on natural footing at pasture. Their confidence and comfort is improved. This equates to happier, healthier cattle. “With beef cattle, the difference in rate of gain per day on rubber versus concrete is .2 to .25 pounds per day. This difference will pay for our product in 2.5 years,” he says.
“We also have what we feel is the most innovative and comfortable free-stall in the world, made from plastic and rubber, for cattle to lie down in. We are all about improving animal welfare and reducing injuries and increasing longevity of cattle.”
It makes a difference, when cattle can be comfortable in an environment that more closely simulates natural conditions. Hoof health is crucial for beef and dairy animals. Cattle scrambling on concrete often damage their feet and wear off the tips of their toes, sometimes leading to infection and abscesses, white line disease or toe tip necrosis. “We see lameness drop—from about 17% when cattle are on concrete—all the way down below 2% when they are on rubber,” says Goodale.
One of their customers said: “We used to think [cattle mats] were a luxury but now we know they are a necessity” because they keep cattle happier and healthier. In any entry or exit route from dairy parlors, or where the cow are being milked in a parallel system, it pays to have rubber. Goodale tells his city friends that he sell carpet and beds for cattle.
In beef operations, mats are also beneficial in working areas—such as where cattle come out of a squeeze chute—or to cover ramps to give better footing when loading or unloading out of a truck. Rain, snow or ice can create precarious footing on concrete, metal or wood, and a rubber mat can help solve that problem.
Goodale also suggests to ranchers that they could put one of his free-stall dairy mats next to their working chute, to provide more comfortable, secure footing for the crew that has to be there all day. “We generally think about the cattle but may forget about the comfort of the crew handling the cattle,” he says.
If a chute just has metal in the bottom, rubber can be very beneficial. “Some of my customers initially think it will cost more to add rubber, or cause the metal underneath to rust out. I ask them what are we working on here—what’s easiest for us, or what’s best for the cattle? When you put rubber in the squeeze chute or circular working chute, cattle go through it more comfortably and thus quicker and calmer.” Footing is a big issue with cattle; they are wary of precarious footing because they fear falling down. Being a prey animal, they instinctively know that survival means being about to stay on their feet and able to run away. Footing is essentially life or death.
To evaluate the effectiveness of footing in a beef or dairy barn, watch cattle get up and down. “The same with our plastic stalls. Cattle in a steel stall will lie there for a moment, pondering whether or how to get up, because they know they will have to struggle and scramble and probably hit something as they get up,” says Goodale. The flexible stalls give them more confidence.
Ryan Lindsey, Animat Inc. Territory Manager, says their product is universal—but focused mainly on dairy and beef cattle production. “Animat has been manufacturing mats for over 35 years. We are vertically integrated; we bring in used tires, grind them into a fine crumb, remove the fiber and steel and use heat and pressure to manufacture our mats,” he says.
Rubber mats help provide footing in slippery areas, reducing injury and stress for cattle, and reduce bedding expenses. The mats are interlocking and provide a continuous cattle-friendly surface. Rubber absorbs shock and reduces concussion, which means less stress on feet, legs and joints. It’s also easy to clean and disinfect.
“Early on, Animat’s main focus was dairy facilities. Providing flooring for dairies helped improve cow flow and reduced hoof wear on abrasive concrete. About 14 years ago we saw a need in the beef industry, and this was an easy transition; we had already been covering slatted dairy facilities for many years. As with anything new, we learned that slatted-floor beef facilities are much different than a slatted floor in a dairy facility. Over the years we made many changes and continue to make changes to improve our product in these facilities. We can put our mats anywhere that cattle need good footing or a soft surface to lie on—such as slatted-floor confinement facilities, holding areas, return lanes, parlor decks, free stall alleys, tie stall and free stalls,” he says.
“The main purpose of our mats is to provide a pasture-like feel, but on concrete, we provide traction and reduce hoof wear and injury. If cattle scramble on concrete, they can damage their feet, and may also fall down. There are many injuries that can happen when cattle are on concrete, as when riding each other to show heat, or in confinement barns when cattle tend to also ride and play around, and this can lead to slips and falls,” he explains.
“Many dairies have concrete that’s been in for many years. To try to improve footing and traction they groove or scabble the concrete, but it still becomes slippery over time as the surface wears with cattle traffic and cleaning. Many people eventually put rubber over the concrete and realize the benefits instantly as cattle flow improves and the hoof trimmer sees improvement in hoof health. They see the difference and wonder why they didn’t do that in the beginning,” says Lindsey.
“Some of the newer dairies are starting out with rubber, because they realize cattle need traction and good footing. Hoof health is important on a dairy. Some producers claim that cattle tend to spend more time at the feed rail eating while standing on rubber mats. I think it draws them there because they are comfortable on the mat, so they might stay a little longer and eat more before they go to lie down.” A comfortable, healthy animal will generally produce more than one with sore feet or joints.
“We put our matting in all types of facilities, including flush barns—where water is used to flush the mats clean of manure. Our mats can be used with automatic scrapers, placing them under the scraper system. This works very well as the scrapers run at a consistent speed and on timers. Dairymen can also use our mats in barns cleaned with a skid steer equipped with a rubber tire scrapper. We design the alley of rubber so it can withstand having a skid loader scraping with the down pressure of the rubber tire.”
His company also creates mats for slatted floors. “A lot of the robotic dairies are going to slatted floor systems so they don’t have to deal with manure on a daily basis. Our matting works excellent on slatted floors. Slats tend to be harder on hooves, and the mats protect the cows’ feet. If the slats are covered with rubber, the rubber flexes and they are less likely to catch a hoof or tear a toe off in the slats,” he explains.
“Standout feature with our matting on slatted floors is our mechanical fastening system that fits down into the slat gap and expands by tightening a stainless steel screw. This is what holds the rubber in place on top of the slats. Our mats stay in place; they won’t come out until you take them out at the end of their life,” says Lindsey.
Rubber flooring is much like a tire on a truck; over time the tread wears down and eventually you need to replace it. “Our fastening system is easy to remove. The other feature that sets us apart is our ability to custom-cut our mats to fit any area of your floor. Many slatted-floor barn have divider walls poured on top of the slats, or a step up pad to the feed bunk. Instead of cutting each individual mat we are able to custom-cut these mats at our factory using our waterjet prior to shipping to the customer. This saves time on installation and money on the amount of square feet you are paying for.”
As cattle get bigger and heavier, standing and walking on concrete is harder on feet and legs. Stiff, sore cattle don’t gain well, and their feet and legs may break down. “With rubber matting, this has changed the industry’s perception of slatted-floor confinement. Cattle can be put into these facilities at a lighter weight (giving producers flexibility in buying cattle) and stay longer without compromising health or efficiency,” says Lindsey.
The cattle are healthier and more comfortable. Their behavioral patterns are completely different. “They don’t mind getting up and down as they are not stiff and sore, so they visit the feed bunk more frequently. All these things add up. The most enjoyable part of my job is visiting with producers to learn what they see as benefits from implementing rubber flooring in their facilities, how their cattle perform on the Animat flooring versus pre-rubber and the other changes they’ve made to their operation to become more efficient and profitable,” he says.
“We also do a lot with cattle processing facilities. All producers feeding cattle have a processing area that is a high-stress area for cattle. Many of these facilities are built on concrete floors so footing becomes an issue as the concrete texture is worn down. Animat can custom-cut to fit your tub area, alleys and all the way through the chute. We also have a Chute mat that can be placed outside on the head chute to give traction as cattle exit. Cattle with good footing remain calm and experience less stress than an animal that is struggling with footing,” he explains.
“This has been a nice addition to what we offer the beef industry. Every cattle operation has areas where traction and footing is an issue. It has gotten us onto many farms as we expand farther west—where fewer slat barns are used,” he says. The company also makes mats for trailers to provide traction and cushion for cattle being transported.
Rubber flooring soon pays for itself in healthier cattle and fewer injuries. On the dairy side, to lose one cow due to flooring issues, lameness or splits, isn’t just the loss of that cow. It includes loss of her milk production, loss of a calf she may be carrying, disruption to the rest of the herd when she’s down, lost time caring for her or removing her from the area.
On the beef side, many producers report a significant reduction in number of pulls from pens covered with rubber. This saves time and labor which converts into more time to focus on other areas of the operation.
Ben Kirkup, Diamond Grid (an Australian company) started his business 7 years ago and originally designed mats to resolve issues with mud on cattle farms—to deal with everything from trampled areas around water troughs/feed troughs to areas that get wet and muddy and erode.
Diamond Grid is an interlocking grid with a multi-layered drainage system that allows moisture to go down through it. This makes it great for driveways, feed and water trough pads, stable floors, muddy areas, arenas, or any other place that need dry footing.
Diamond Grid was originally designed for use on farms for solving problems with muddy areas on their properties, everything from muddy cattle yards to muddy driveways. The solution was simply to stabilize the ground and develop a drainage system with one product that is designed to do both.
“In Australia we have a big problem with mud and erosion; on huge properties that may be several thousand square miles in size, many cattle come to the water troughs. When the larger cattle trample and erode the area around the trough, the smaller animals and calves may not be able to reach the trough. We solved this problem with grid mats, to protect the ground around the trough,” he says.
“We also do a lot of mats for barns—not only for livestock but also for machine sheds—to give a good surface rather than just dirt. One of our biggest-selling items right now is one that enables people to pour concrete into the grid of our mats. The grid is only 1.5 inches thick and you can pour concrete into the grid; the grid then becomes the reinforcement for the concrete, rather than using steel mesh or rebar. This has become extremely popular because it’s so easy. Anybody can pour the concrete into our mats; you don’t have to be a professional concrete tradesman. Any farmer can lay this down in his barn, pour concrete into it and have a perfect concrete surface that is much cheaper than traditional concrete,” he explains.
“We just completed the surface for a very large feedlot in Nebraska, using this concept. Our product is very diverse. We build airstrips with it, and our biggest seller globally is for mining companies—gold mines, copper mines, etc.—where we construct miles and miles of roads with this material,” he says.
“Any surface, like concrete, asphalt, etc. can be improved or done more cost-effectively with this alternative. We have two machines creating this product in the U.S. (in Chicago), and we’ve expanded our business into Canada and Mexico.”
On many farms and ranches, this product is used for road surfacing to prevent washouts when it rains. “This surfacing is not only better for livestock, but also for vehicles, providing a dependable surface and better traction (rather than mud or ice). We provide surfacing for working areas and roadways on hobby farms or large ranches,” says Kirkup. The product is very versatile.
In confinement situations, mud can become a huge issue in winter or wet seasons. It can also be an issue on pasture if there are high-traffic areas near gates or water troughs or feeding areas. The grid mats provide better footing and alleviate mud problems. Keeping animals out of the mud is very helpful. Mud and moisture are hard on feet.
“Texas A & M University is currently building a large equine center, upgrading their livestock and equine center. A lot of our product is going into that project—everything from the flooring/footing for the horse walker to the horse and cattle yards,” says Kirkup.
These products can greatly improve the management (for the people) and the comfort for the animals. It also cuts down on labor. “If you have a barn with a dirt floor, if you can put a cost-effective flooring solution in there, bridged with concrete, it is a lot easier to keep clean. You can either blow it or sweep it, and it is much more hygienic and easier to manage. In stalls you can pick up the manure and don’t have any wet bedding to take out. It saves money quickly because you don’t have to replace so much bedding in the stalls,” he says.
Diamond Grid has been engineered as a cost-effective solution for erosion control, soil and turf stabilization, with a unique design that is up to 96% permeable. Used extensively for all types of driveways and shed flooring, Diamond Grid is proven to withstand heavy loads under constant use in mining, agriculture and commercial construction. This is also an alternative to traditional concreting, with a comparable load bearing capacity at 60% less cost.