Tracks - Well built and well designed

Cow tracks

The value of comfortable, well-designed and well-built tracks enabling cows to access grazing areas is readily acknowledged. Most emphasis, however, is 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.

While the value of good tracks in terms of keeping cows' udders and teats clean may be seen as secondary, with the increased incidence of environmental mastitis occurrence, good clean cow tracks that enable the cows to travel from farm to pasture have an important role in controlling the spread of pathogens like E. Coli and Streptococcus uberis.

A further advantage of clean cattle entering the parlour from grazing means that less teat preparation may be necessary, speeding the milking process and reducing the potential for any pathogens to be spread via the washing process itself.

Understanding the hierarchy of the herd when cattle walk is an important consideration; cows lower in the hierarchy are unwilling to overtake those of higher status. They should be allowed to travel at their own speed and not made to hurry by the use of tractors, dogs or the use of sticks. They walk to a large degree in single file and develop well-worn cow tracks. When forced to hurry, they bunch together, become less able to choose where to place their feet, and as a result are more likely to splash any potentially-contaminated standing water or mud onto their teats and udders.

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 at which the cows are driven, can not only have significant impact on foot health, but also be an important means of controlling the increasing incidence of environmental mastitis while at pasture.

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

  • 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.
  • Cow tracks must be properly maintained and not used by farm machinery, which is likely to damage them. Fences should be sited so that maintenance of drains and ditches is facilitated.
  • 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 enhanced by the used of materials which makes the surface more durable and better-drained.
  • 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 mastitis-causing pathogens.

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