Rough Concrete was ‘Trimming’ Feet

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

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.” And so the story goes, ending in the sad tale of a war being lost because a rider could not deliver a message as of a result of the horse he was to ride having a sore foot.

This scenario often can be related to dairy cows with sore feet. Usually, when sore feet occur, animals do not eat as much as normal because they do not eat as frequently as they should. Quite often, they also suffer systemic infections that can enter the body through the feet.

As the dairy industry moves toward confinement housing and large groups of animals, foot health will continue to be an increasing health challenge. For this reason, I feel early detection and treatment is important, but more critical is the design of the facilities used to house milking animals. Concrete surfaces must be designed so that they cause as little feet abrasion as possible.

It often is difficult to explain to a concrete contractor that the surface on which animals walk must be rough but not abrasive. Many of the people whom I have encountered in the concrete business are not familiar with livestock, and therefore they do not realize how soft and vulnerable the feet are to being ground away as the animals move about.

When you talk with a contractor about good traction for the animals. the contractor often thinks “broom finish.” This rough surface is probably one of the most abrasive and harmful finishes that can be used for animals.

Surfaces Shouldn’t be Abrasive

In working with contractors, I try to explain that we want the surface to be irregular but not abrasive. Usually, this means forming grooves or some other irregularities in the surface while the concrete is still “green.” It is done when the pour is so soft that the operators will wear rubber boots and walk in the material at shoe-top to ankle depth, forming the surface as they go. As a rule, once the concrete has hardened to the point that it will support the weight of a man, any additional manipulation to the surface often results in sharp points being formed that can be hazardous to the feet.

Bob’s new housing barns had been completed about three to four months previously. Cattle had been moved in for about 60 days. The facility consisted of a center drive-through feed lane with free stalls on either side. Manure was removed by water flushing periodically, so the floors were kept clean at all times.

The first month in the new facility seemed to be a dream. Animals adapted quickly, and milk production went up rather dramatically as a result of increased dry matter intake. The old facility was primarily outside corral housing. However, after about the first month in the new facility, conditions began to “go down hill.” We began to see more and more lame cows and foot problems. The situation had increased to the point that, during my last telephone conversation with Bob, he said, “Doe, we actually have some cows whose feet are bleeding.”

On my visit to the farm, I could see bleeding as well. It was so bad that you frequently could see small patches of blood running down the surface of the concrete.

Examination of the floors in the cow areas revealed that the surface had been left with a very rough broom finish. Bob said, “Doe, we just didn’t want them to be slipping and falling, especially after the floors were flushed and still wet.”

Grinding Off Feet

As a result of the finish on the floors, Bob was not having a problem with cows slipping down, but rather the surface was so abrasive that it was literally grinding off the bottom of the cows’ feet.

As a result of this high incidence of foot problems, feed intake had gone down dramatically. As you would expect, production followed.

In order to reduce the amounts of foot wear, I suggested:

1. Reduce the abrasiveness of the concrete surface by preparing a “gang” of concrete blocks poured full with concrete and each with an “I-bolt” in the concrete pour. These blocks were fastened together in gangs approximately five blocks wide and four long. This assembly was pulled behind a small tractor and dragged for many hours over the concrete surfaces.

In other operations, we have accomplished the same purpose using power buffers or grinders to wear away the abrasiveness of the surface. Either of these methods has worked much better than trying to drag large pieces of concrete, as I have seen attempted.

2. Establish good footing. In Bob’s case, grooves had been formed in the concrete surface at the time it was poured. Had this not been done, I would have suggested that they be sawn into the surface at approximately four-inch intervals.

3. Following smoothing the concrete surface with the blocks, for the next two to three weeks manure was removed from the cow areas by scraping rather than flushing. This action helped reduce the abrasiveness and left a thin manure pad on the surface.

4. The feet on all the animals were examined to identify those with excessive wear. Whenever possible, wooden blocks were glued to some of the feet to help reduce the abrasiveness.

5. One small group of the most severely affected animals was put together and the concrete covered with a thin layer of sawdust to reduce wear on their feet.

Fortunately, Bob’s problem was identified and corrected before it reached major herd health proportions. I estimate that approximately 10 percent of his milking animals were affected to some extent, with only a few animals to the point of dramatically dropping in milk production.

As a result of our experience in this herd and several others with new facilities, I am convinced of the importance of the proper finish on concrete for cows, especially if the manure is to be flushed with water.

Again, I stress that the surface must be rough in order to maintain good footing; however, it cannot be abrasive to the point of causing excessive foot wear.