Cattle Mats; A Cow Comfort Option for Dairy Barns

Published on Wed, 11/21/2018 - 2:30pm

 Cattle Mats; A Cow Comfort Option for Dairy Barns

 By Michael Cox for American Dairymen Magazine

 Regardless of mailbox milk price, providing excellent cow comfort is a non-negotiable for high performing dairy herds. Comfortable cows have the best chance of sustaining high physical performance, and in turn, leaving a positive net margin. Bedding and flooring are key areas of cow comfort, as producers should aim to make resting areas as attractive as possible for the milking string. Several bedding options are commonplace nowadays, one of which is rubber or foam cattle mats. Rubber and foam mats offer a great solution for stall bed comfort, while also serving a dual purpose of excellent loafing and walking surface to cows.

In free stall barn situations, a rubber mat of approximately two inches thick is installed on top of the concrete bed to provide additional comfort and cushion for lying. The matt can then be sprinkled with sawdust, lime, straw or paper to improve cow cleanliness and comfort.
Mats provide a very simple and effective comfort option which can be quickly and easily installed and maintained. Mat options include flat solid rubber mats, rubber filled mats and also foam filled mats.
Lying time in stalls can be increased by providing a deep bed of sawdust or similar material to make the stall as attractive as possible to the cow. Rubber filled mattresses offer a slightly different option than solid mats. The mattress is more flexible and molds under the cow’s body. Maximizing lying time has enormous benefits to the cow, through increased rumination, more blood flow to the udder and lower incidence of lameness. Quite simply, when cows are not on their feet, they have little opportunity to become lame. Mats also offer a clean and dry resting area for hooves and will reduce the time spent standing in damp conditions and the chance for bacteria growth around the hoof.

Several research studies have highlighted the benefits of rubber and foam mats for use in alley ways. The softer underfoot conditions provided by mats reduces physical injuries to the hoof compared to concrete floors, and therefore a reduction in lameness overall.
If installing mats along the entire alleyway is cost prohibitive for producers, corners, holding areas and other areas where cows turn should be prioritized for mat use. Cows turning corners on concrete has the most effect on wear and tear on the hoof, which can lead to bruising, ulcers and other lameness issues. The act of turning a corner can ‘grind’ the hoof against concrete; rubber and foam mats will reduce this issue. Research studies have shown alley mats can improve locomotion scores and cows take longer strides, indicating that they feel comfortable and assured of foot placement when walking on the mats. Many modern mats have a non-slip surface and this will improve cow’s confidence and willingness to move around regularly from feed to water to the free stall.  Hygiene on mats can also be easier to maintain. Lameness issues such as digital dermatitis can be more easily controlled in an alley mat environment as hygiene can be improved.  
Mats have a wide array of benefits to offer the dairy cow, such as, better hygiene, improved cow cleanliness, improved locomotion, improved feed intake if headlock mats are installed, greater lying time and reduced physical abrasions and injury. Before installing mats either in alleyways or on stalls, producers should visit other dairies with experience of mat use and learn the pros and cons of the system.