Cow Tracks

The value of comfortable, well-designed and well-built tracks enabling cows to access grazing areas is readily acknowledged, with the emphasis placed on the value of such tracks for the well-being of the cows' feet and a general aim to reduce lameness and improve dairy cattle mobility.

Good tracks are also important in reducing the incidence of environmental mastitis occurrence and keeping udders and teats clean and in good condition. A well-planned track layout will allow the most efficient use of grazing by providing access to all necessary areas while minimising damage to pastures.

It is therefore important to consider carefully the composition, condition and length of any track used to move cattle from farm to grazing, as there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the quality and type of surface, together with the speed and manner in which the cows are herded, has a significant impact on foot health. Herding cows along a track must be done with care so that they are able to place their feet carefully in order to avoid standing on any stones or other obstacles which can cause them to injure themselves, or to lose their footing and slip or fall.

A great deal of research has been done in recent years to design the ideal farm track for dairy cattle:

  • Good planning of the overall layout of farm tracks for the most effective use is essential to get maximum benefit for the minimum cost. A 5 metre track of which 4m is surfaced will enable good flow for up to 200 cows. Each additional 100 cows would require an extra 1m width.
  • Tracks ideally should not be sited in areas where more wear may occur or higher levels of maintenance would be required, such as behind hedges, in hollows or in heavily-shaded areas.
  • The quality of the surface along which cows have to walk is paramount. A variety of materials may be used to construct a track, but the surface should not consist of sharp stones, rubble or gravel, even though these materials may be used in the construction of the track base.
  • Cow tracks must be properly maintained and not routinely used by farm machinery, which is likely to damage them. Fences should be sited so that the maintenance of drains and ditches is made easier.
  • Gateways, narrow tracks and the areas surrounding water troughs require special attention as they are often covered with sharp stones, rubble or gravel and are liable to become muddy in wet weather. These areas can be improved by the used of materials which makes the surface more durable and better-drained. Poorly-drained soil and wet areas can allow hoof horn to become soft and more prone to injury, disease or perforation by sharp stones.
  • Drainage is an important aspect of the track's design, to avoid damage from the build-up of wet areas and mud that will also be a supportive environment for disease-causing pathogens. A 'crown' needs to be formed in the track surface so that water drains away easily.

Even the best cow tracks require maintenance, and poorer tracks can be improved by remedial work. Signs of cow track problems can include:

  • High levels of lameness during the grazing period.
  • Mobility problems linked with sole and white line damage.
  • Evidence of water erosion problems on tracks, or poor drainage on track surfaces such as the formation of ridges.
  • Cows walking in single file, or bottlenecks in cow flow at particular points.

The DairyCo Cow Tracks booklet has comprehensive information which will aid farmers in planning, designing, constructing, maintaining and using effective cow tracks.

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