Grooving Concrete Improved Heat Detection

by James A. Jarrett, D.V.M.

One of the four major areas of concern in dairy management is that of reproductive health. At this point, many experts feel that open days in excess of 90 (on a herd basis) cost approximately $3 per cow per day. A 100-cow herd with an average open days of 100 would see a financial loss of about $30 per cow per year.

Usually the first thought that comes to mind in discussing breeding problems is that of infectious diseases or hormonal imbalances resulting in such problems as cystic ovaries. However, an examination of the situation on most dairy farms reveals that these areas contribute only a very small portion to the total problem. In almost all herds with breeding problems, heat detection (estrus) usually plays a major part.

Heat detection is a management responsibility. There are many aids and devices which can assist management. However, good cow observation continues to play a major role in this area.

A Case Study

Environment does occasionally contribute to this area of management responsibility. Recently, I was involved with a situation on the farm of a regular client in which heat detection was improved dramatically by a change in the environment.

John’s dairy herd has about 200 dairy cows. They are housed almost exclusively in a free stall environment. This free stall facility is a “motel-style” constructed some 10 to 15 years ago. Manure handling is done by scraping the lots each day with a tractor and metal scraper.

Due to the original finish on the concrete and also the constant scraping, the surface had become extremely slick. As a result of having lost several cows each year from injuries, John decided (with my encouragement) to contract with a concern to groove all the surfaces in his housing area.

This grooving procedure is relatively expensive. However, in many cases, it is highly advisable. In this case, ½-inch-wide grooves, at a depth of 1 inch, located 4 inches apart, were ground into all the surfaces of the housing area. The surface then was “checked” with these grooves in areas of high cow traffic, such as approaches and exits to the parlor.

Unexpected Benefits

In the beginning, I felt that the benefit from this process would come primarily in the area of fewer cattle injuries, as a result of this grooved environment. However, within the first two to three months after this grooving was done, I was surprised to see a dramatic improvement in the heat detection rate in this herd.

It is my feeling now, and also that of the management, that although animals were “cycling,” they were not standing to be ridden by the herd mates. If riding did occur, it was to a limited extent and often not detected.

We feel that the improvement in the walking surface where these cows were housed resulted in the animals exhibiting heat much better than before. Records indicate that, prior to grooving, the heat detection rate was approximately 40 to 50 percent. However, after grooving, the rate improved to somewhere between 70 and 75 percent. This improvement has continued now for some three or four months, and we feel that it will be permanent.