A happy dairy cow is a great yielder. This is a highly overlooked fact that can make or break a milking trade, quite literally! In fact, most problems related to milk production may find their origins in how the cows are generally treated and their level of comfort.
If you own cows, you might have already heard of cow mats. But, what are the benefits of cow mats for dairy cows?
Cow mats offer a comfortable flooring surface, not only for walking but also for laying. They also help insulate the herd from the coldness and hardness of the bare soil while relieving and safeguarding their joints and feet muscles. Cow mats boost milk production by increasing the life quality of dairy cows.
Cow mats deliver significant benefits for the cow. Furthermore, they stimulate the milk supply while cutting down maintenance costs from the farmer's point of view. In summary, they're great investments that will be easily paid off throughout the year.
How can Cattle Mats (or Cow Mats) Benefit a Cow's Health?
People are mostly aware of the physical and mental health problems and their impact on us humans. Similarly, cows and other animals can also suffer from health issues, which eventually means heftier vet bills in the long run.
For example, their udders can suffer considerably in poor stall conditions due to inflammation or irritation.
Likewise, mastitis is a prevalent health condition caused by exposure to bacteria thriving in contaminated soil or mud. These microbes can impact milk count and quality since they pass from the udder to the milk, acting as a source of illness for consumers and a spoilage agent. Needless to say, clean matting will significantly reduce the instances of mastitis on cows.
During rainy seasons, permanent exposure to wet and insalubrious soil leads to other illnesses that increase the milk's somatic cell count. These are signaled by the prominent presence of white blood cells.
Some of these cells can ultimately decrease milk fat and protein content and, hence, lower its quality.
Another thing to keep in mind is the injuries resulting from lying down.
Cows spend a sizable amount of time lying down (roughly 15 hours per day) when on pasture. This time is reduced by almost 30% when enclosed in a barn.
In the process of lying, cows free-fall at the last 10-12 inches due to their physiology. The surface that receives the impact has to absorb the shock produced, especially when we think about animals this heavy.
Some manufacturers claim that their cow mats are designed to emulate the shock-absorbing properties of pasture, eliminating all the risks associated with a cow's free fall. The degree to which this is true is entirely dependent upon the quality of the mat
Rubber matting can reduce cow lameness
Cow lameness is one of the leading causes of underproduction in the dairy cattle business. It is a source of headaches for many dairy farmers who strive to make a living out of their cows' milk-yielding performance.
For those who are not familiar, Lameness relates primarily to foot and leg problems that impact the cow's movements. This is a serious situation that severely limits productivity, as we just disclosed.
These drawbacks in production outcomes could be more troublesome than the costs associated with lameness treatment and proper matting. Additionally, leg issues could further foster many other health concerns, such as mastitis and malnutrition.
90% of lameness occurrences are related to foot problems and, predominantly, the rear feet. Some of the most typical cases of Lameness include claw disease, digital dermatitis, laminitis, and foot rot.
Walking on uneven and rough terrains can lead to anatomical deformities, ultimately resulting in increased Lameness. Concrete is particularly taxing on feet, especially on the hoof and sole.
The sole can be inflicted with numerous injuries, including bruising, abscess, and ulcer. The hoof wall, on the other hand, since it supports the bulk of the animal's weight, is bound to crack due to a poor conformation of the feet and already existing damage on the soft tissue between the claws.
Dirty surfaces can similarly contribute to the formation of digital dermatitis, consisting of bacterial skin disease that can potentially erode the heel horn as it's propelled deeper into the hoof.
We cannot neglect to highlight the problems that could be avoided when considering the placement of mats and the priority this should have on any dairy farmer's budget.
This is why, to maintain a healthy production cycle, some capital must be allotted for cow mats, even if they are to be installed in areas where the cattle usually move.
As a temporal fix, filling the ground with sand or clay could aid in overcoming the most immediate hazards leading to Lameness. Still, you would have spent more money over the course of a year as a result, which is a "lame" way to go about it!
Are stall mats waterproof?
In the context of bedding, mats are usually coupled with other alternatives such as hay, sawdust, or wood shavings. However, when compared to these bedding options, rubber mats stand as the healthiest choice for the cow due to their isolating properties and waterproof capabilities.
One of the most touted benefits of using rubber mats is cleanliness. Most other organic and non-organic beds can make your cows dirty, which, in turn, could lead to health problems.
On the flip side, some dairy farmers believe that cow mats may not be as comfortable as they can increase the time for a cow to lie down, considering that the mat is at the floor level.
Pros and Cons of Cow Stall Mats When Compared to Other Beddings and Floorings
Cow mats are advertised as all-in-one solutions, meaning that they should provide both bedding and flooring for barns and stalls. Naturally, installing cow mats on a barn floor is always better than having your cattle endure hard or wet surfaces. Yet, it can have both benefits and setbacks when it comes to bedding.
Cow Mats Vs. Compost
Compost has been traditionally used as bedding for cattle. Manure is, moreover, cheaper than most other market counterparts and presents high absorbency.
Still, more effort is required on the part of the farmer to make sure that the bed is adequately aerated daily during milking and refilled every couple of weeks at least, all of this to reduce the chances of disease or infection
Additionally, bacterial growth is awfully fast in dried manure when it gets mildly wet. Hence, the transmission of bacteria through the teat becomes highly probable under these conditions.
Cow Mats Vs. Straw and hay
Straw and hay are other organic materials used widely in the cowshed. They compost pretty well and are excellent insulation against extreme temperatures.
Cows are also reported to lie down for longer periods on straw than on soft rubber stall mats, providing as much comfort as compost with a far lesser bacterial count.
By contrast, the chances of developing mastitis are far higher on straw than on rubber mats. Besides, straw and hay are difficult for farmers to handle compared to manure.
Cow Mats Vs. Sand
Sand is much softer on the leg and hoof and is not as ideal housing for bacteria as the other types of organic bedding. Various studies show that the finer the sand grains are, the more comfortable it is for cattle, and the less water it holds, decreasing the chances of contagion.
Nevertheless, sand is prone to be compacted and mixed up heavily with manure, making it extremely difficult when it's time for disposal. Besides, sand cannot be used optimally on slatted floors. It tends to require more maintenance since it's susceptible to turn concave, consequently reducing the cows' lying time and productivity.
How long do cow mats last?
Rubber cattle mats are recognized for several traits, such as their durability, resistance to water, warmth, and good hygiene.
Other options for stall floors include clay, sand, and topsoil. These can deliver more comfort overall, but they can increase maintenance costs considerably and come packed with hygiene problems.
The initial investment for a mat roll may be higher, but the highest selling point of a rubber or foam mat is its endurance. The other options are far cheaper but require periodic investments that consistently drain your capital. Rubber mats are also specially designed to prevent slippage and consequent fall injuries, which is a big plus.
How Are Cow Mats Made?
Generally, cow mats are made out of natural rubber or Foam. It is said that cow mats are eco-friendly since they are made using recycled rubber, which is great for relieving landfills.
Do stall mats absorb pee?
Mats built with natural rubber will not absorb any moisture or pee because they are, by nature, non-porous. The EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) used by some manufacturers is water-resistant and has low water absorption but falls short of the waterproof features of genuine rubber.
Waterproofing is highly relevant when considering the flooring options for stalls. This guarantees that the mats won't retain any urine or water, making it easy to clean them. You wouldn't want to be dealing with ammonia. Cows exposed to ammonia fumes are also likely to develop lung complications over time. For this reason, stalls must have proper ventilation as well.
How much does a cow mat weigh?
Cattle mats come in various designs, depending on the manufacturer. For the top side, you will find chequered, amoebic, hammer-head top, or triangle designs. The anti-slip bottom side is usually wide-groove or honeycomb, although other designs and patterns are also available. They're not exactly "pretty," but they are highly effective.
Sizes and weights are variable too, but, on average, they come in around 6ft x 4ft. with a weight hovering around the area of 40-45 Kg. They can also be sold straight-edged, in rolls, or interlocking tiles, depending on the specific needs of the stall owner
How Do I Install Cow Mats?
Cow mats are pretty easy to install, even if they may require a bit of work depending on the type of surface we speak of. It certainly doesn't beat tossing sand with a shovel, but the process is still not as complex as what appears to be at first glance.
When the mat is placed on concrete, wood, or asphalt, no preparation is needed on the floor beforehand. For other types of floor, you should perform some preliminary tasks so that the mat doesn't shift or sink.
You can follow below steps for floor preparation:
Once the floor is prepared. It's time to introduce the mats by laying them in the middle of the stall and placing them next to each other according to the layout set up by the manufacturer. Work from the starting mat and make sure to fill all possible spaces.
A common way to install them is by drilling holes in each corner of the mat and driving a 3" split drive nail through them, fixing them to the underlying surface. Even though the mat has a non-slip finish on its underside, for the most part, by nailing it to the floor, we are locking the mat further in place.
Watch this video for better understanding on installing cow mats.
After a few weeks of use, some surfaces will demand re-leveling, which, luckily, is a one-time task and only needed when sink spots appear on the mat or when the underlying material appears to be pushing the edges up.
Mats may also need to be cut to fit within the stall's framework from time to time. To do this optimally, you can follow these tips:
Cut edges should face the wall while the mats retain their pairing through factory-sheared edges. This will ensure that they're tightly fit.
Which areas in the barn are most Important for Installing Mat Floorings?
As stated earlier, cow mats are not the cheapest flooring alternative available for barns and stalls. While they can effectively reduce long-term costs, the initial investment may increase if cow mats are not strategically placed.
We must find the most strategic spots where you'll probably need a mat installed. Fortunately, mats come in several sizes and presentations, which means that you'll be able to install the mat flooring at various separate stages.
While it's critical to have a complete mat aisle for hoof health, the area of most stress seems to be the turning points, that is, where cows turn corners. This is because of the grinding effect produced by turning the hoof around on concrete or other harsh soil.
Ideally, mats should be installed on the ground over which the cows roam around more during the day, especially at spots that are susceptible to accumulate moisture and can turn slippery.
When cows tread on non-slip mats, they tend to take longer strides with increased confidence. This factor will favorably reduce lameness over time.
Where Can I buy the Cow Mats?
With that out of the way, let us delve into some recommended cow mat picks. Although this is not a buying guide by any stretch, we will go out of our way to show examples of prime mats that are being manufactured and sold across the US.
Easy Fix has a select line of cow mattresses on sale, including their Jupiter F / F45 line, touted as their award-winning flagship. It has a 45mm layer made of PU latex foam and a back slope for easy drainage of animal wastes.
Animat is a Canadian company specializing in dairy and beef cattle and claims to contribute to the environment by employing used tires for their mat manufacturing process. They also have a bunch of dealers in the Eastern part of the US.
The Animattress III, with a thickness of 1.25" and a rubber cone underside, is elaborated specifically for tie stalls, but the company claims that it can be used in free stalls as well.
This is a very fat cow mat, with a width of 4" and a height of 3/4". It's also made using recycled material, according to the specifications. Not the prettiest design, but very functional.
Gabel Belting, Inc. has specialized in conveyor belts since 1974, but they also have a dedicated rubber cow mat department. They also provide installation services for those unfamiliar with DIY stall mat flooring and bedding procedures.
We sincerely hope that you've learned to appreciate the benefits of reducing cattle lameness by relying on cow mats. It has been our main goal to walk you through some of the most relevant aspects related to these cow mats, including their effect on cows' productivity, their advantages over other stall bedding and flooring solutions, their waste- and water-repellant properties, their installation, and examples of good-quality mats for your dairy farm.
Don't forget to check our Dairy Farming Guides section, that will help you to make better decisions!