Concrete flooring is widely used in dairy barns because it’s inexpensive, durable, and easy to clean. However, concrete surfaces can become slick, and this can cause traction issues with your cattle. Slick surfaces greatly increase chances that your heifers could become lame or develop hoof pathologies such as white line haemorrhages, sole ulcers, digital dermatitis, and heel erosion1.
Hoof injuries and disease are a tremendous concern because many cows are affected by it. Injuries cause pain to your cows, can stop them from properly eating, and cause milk production issues. In addition, these diseases can cause reproductive issues, which may inhibit your ability to breed your heifers.
High-friction Flooring Can Improve the Gait of Cows
A recent study in the Journal of Dairy Science has found that softer, higher-friction flooring can greatly improve the gait of cows. This study found that cow mobility is dramatically increased by rubber stall mats. Having the confidence in their steps, cows had longer strides with more joint articulation on high-friction flooring when compared to low-friction concrete2.
But there’s one more huge implication of high-friction, soft flooring: cows walked quicker on them and slipped less. This directly translates to faster milking sessions, with less risk of hoof injuries. Using advanced kinematic gait analysis, they found that with high-friction flooring, the maximum strides of the cows increased, with more stride overlap, and the cows spent less time with three hooves on the ground (commonly referred to “Triple Support” in the study). After walking on the high-friction flooring for a short duration of time, the cows gained more confidence in their steps and, as a result, they didn’t have to regain their footing like they would’ve on a concrete floor3.
High Cushioning Flooring Helps a Cow’s Comfort
As mentioned above, cows become more confident as they step on high-friction flooring, and this is also the case in flooring with high cushioning properties. The sheer size of a cow inhibits their ability to manoeuvre, and adequate traction is especially important when they begin to walk, stop suddenly, or turn corners. Cows will choose to walk on flooring with greater cushioning ability and high traction properties4. Hard flooring even puts pressure on a cow’s hoofs, and cows will actively avoid grooved concrete flooring5.
Softer Flooring Can Beneficially Influence Cow Behaviour
Animal husbandry involves maximising animal welfare in order to enhance their productive life cycle. Or, in other terms, happy cows produce more milk and are less likely to get hurt. Cows that live on high-traction flooring are more likely to perform comfort behaviour, like hygiene behaviour that needs secure proper footing. Studies have shown that caudal licking and licking while standing on three legs increase for cows who spend most their time on high-traction, soft flooring6.
Cows are also more likely to rest in tie stalls that have cushioned flooring7. Poor resting conditions can lead to less milk production, and effect a cow’s overall health. But when soft flooring was introduced to tie stalls, cows were more likely to rest.
Rubber Barn Flooring
The best soft, high-traction flooring choice is Rubber Mats. Rubber mats are formed in a crucible of pressure and heat. Large chunks of recycled rubber are shredded and ground almost to a powder. The rubber chunks are bonded through a polyurethane binding agent and then heated and mixed. This crumbly mixture is poured into a mould, and a hydraulic press presses it to 31.5 mega-pascals, combining it to one solid piece. To put the pressing mechanism into perspective, the hydraulic press creates enough pressure to crush some hardwoods, like redwood.
Because of the high-pressure manufacturing process, rubber mats are designed to be the most durable mat on the market. Rubber is hard to tear and can take the regular wear and tear from cows and horses walking on it. It’s also non-porous, so it’s resistant to the weather, water, and mud, making it ideal for barn flooring. A simple hose with a nozzle on it can wash away any dirt, filth, and grime, yet rubber mats even hold up to being cleaned with a pressure washer.
It has a little bit of cushioning which can continually take the pressure of heavy weights and return to its original shape. The shock absorbing properties of rubber mats make them highly sought after for not only stall mats in barns, but as flooring in gyms. If you were to drop 180kgs of weight from a fully loaded barbell, you’d notice a slight bounce from the bar, reducing the impact of the weight on the flooring underneath. Rubber mats are the industry standard in both the athletic and farming industries for the same reason: rubber reduces the concussive power of heavy weights. The result of this is that rubber matting will provide you with many years of trouble-free service.
Rubber Surfaces: Stud Dot or Amoebic
There are several surface textures on rubber mats that add traction. The stud dot surface is a type of textured surface where hundreds of small dots protrude from the rubber surface, effectively adding extra grip to the already high-traction rubber surface. Since the raised dots sit a few millimetres above the surface, you can easily clean in between the dots. Also, because of the compressibility of the stud dot surface, you can save on hay and put wood chips on top of the rubber mats. The 17mm Stud Dot Rubber Stable Mats at Stable Mats Ireland offer the perfect fusion between a high-traction and easy to clean surface texture.
Amoebic is a surface texture with hundreds of varied shapes, which provides a good gripping surface. Since the amoebic pattern is slightly raised, it’s easy to sweep off and clean. The 17mm Amoebic Rubber Stable Mats found at Stable Mats Ireland are a brilliant addition to your barn.
On the reverse side, both the stud dot and amoebic mats have drainage furrows, which allows excellent drainage and aeration. Standing water creates problems in your barn and adds to the health complications of your cows. But rubber mats with drainage furrows help the water find the proper drains rather than pooling underneath the hooves of your animals.
Thickness of Rubber Mats
One last consideration that will factor into purchasing rubber mats is the thickness of the mats. There are two different thicknesses which you can purchase mats in: 17mm and 12mm. The thickness determines the durability, with the thicker mats being able to last heavier weights. Therefore, the 17mm mats are great to use for full grown cows or horses because they have greater shock absorption properties compared to the 12mm. However, the 12mm mats are great to use in the stalls of calves or lighter animals. The thickness of the mat which you purchase depends on what animals you raise on your farm.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that the thicker 17mm mats are slightly heavier than the 12mm mats, and so if you need your mats to be portable, then you might consider purchasing thinner mats. At Stable Mats Ireland, we offer 12mm Half-sized mats which are 3 feet by 4 feet (the original mats all come in a 6 feet by 4 feet size). These mats are significantly easier to move around, which saves on setup time.
Cutting Rubber Mats
Whether you’re setting up a cow stall or a gym floor with rubber mats, there are several ways to cut the mats to get the perfect fit. A YouTube channel with the name Castlebrook Farm has a great instructional video, which tests out several ways to cut rubber barn flooring. The video is entitled, “How to cut heavy duty stall mats – the easiest way!”. From a Stanley utility knife to an electric carving knife to a jigsaw with a heavy-duty blade, he concluded that the easiest way to cut rubber mats was with a jigsaw. In order to cut the perfect straight edge, layout the cutting line with a chalk line. Give the video a view if you’re considering different ways to cut your rubber mats to size.
Seldom do you have the opportunity to make one easy, inexpensive change to your barn and yield such beneficial results. By adding high-traction, soft rubber mats to barn’s flooring, you could avoid injuries, increase milk production, and have happier cows. Cows gain confidence when they step onto rubber mats, being comfortable enough to perform hygiene behaviour. Rubber mats are the simple addition to your barn and will provide you will many years of trouble-free service.
Author: David Van Kooten
1.S.J Wells, L.P Garber, B.A Wagner, “Papillomatous Digital Dermatitis and Associated Risk Factors in US Dairy Herds,” Preventive Veterinary Medicine,Volume 38, Issue 1,1999, Pages 11-24.
2.F.C. Flower, A.M. de Passillé, D.M. Weary, D.J. Sanderson, J. Rushen, “Softer, Higher-Friction Flooring Improves Gait of Cows With and Without Sole Ulcers,” Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 90, Issue 3,
4.J. Rushen, A.M. de Passillé, “Effects of Roughness and Compressibility of Flooring on Cow Locomotion,” Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 89, Issue 8, 2006, Pages 2965-2972.
6.S. Platz, F. Ahrens, J. Bendel, H.H.D. Meyer, M.H. Erhard, “What Happens with Cow Behavior When Replacing Concrete Slatted Floor by Rubber Coating: A Case Study,” Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 91, Issue 3, 2008,Pages 999-1004.
7.J. Rushen, D. Haley, A.M. de Passillé, “Effect of Softer Flooring in Tie Stalls on Resting Behavior and Leg Injuries of Lactating Cows,” Journal of Dairy Science, VOLUME 90, ISSUE 8, P3647-3651, AUGUST 01, 2007.https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(07)71820-9/fulltext