Constructing Flooring for Ease of Cattle Movement

Flooring seems to be an afterthought in many beef barns. It is a necessity of course, but it often isn't constructed with cattle movement in mind. Floor surfaces need to have a finish with enough texture to provide traction for cattle to move but smooth enough to clean properly. In some cases, floors are so smooth that cattle slip and injure themselves and in other cases the floors are so rough that cattle develop feet and leg problems. There is a fine balance between traction and cleanability.

Pen floors need to be strong and durable to resist manure acids and repeated cleaning. Start by using a minimum of 25 MPa1 concrete with 6% air entrainment. Air entrainment is a concrete additive that makes the concrete more durable.

A good floor finish combines surface texture and grooves to provide traction. There are two primary ways of producing this combination. One way is to finish the concrete and form grooves in the surface while it is still wet. The other is to cut grooves in the floor after it has cured.

Broom Finish - The surface of the concrete should be finished with a texture. A stiff broom can be used to produce a "broom" finish.

Textured Finish - An alternative textured finish can be produced with an expanded metal roller, referred to as a "Jitterbug" or "Rollerbug" to imprint the surface (Figure 1). When concrete is first poured and levelled with a bull-float it is glossy and dries to a matte finish before hardening. When the matte finish is observed, tap your fingers on the concrete, if you leave fingerprints and your fingers stay dry it is the right time to use the roller to produce a textured surface. This finish is difficult to do well without experience. If improperly done it can result in a very abrasive surface which will damage cattle hooves.

Two cylindrical rollers on top of a piece of wood flooring

Figure 1. Two cylindrical rollers on top of a piece of wood flooring

1The compressive strength of concrete is rated in megapascals (MPa) in the metric system.

Grooving to Reduce Slippage - Cattle will still slip even on a floor with a good textured finish. Grooving the floor provides edges for cattle to catch their hooves to keep them from slipping too far and falling. There is some debate on what is the best groove pattern.

Longitudinal Grooves - One approach is to make grooves parallel to the feed manager ¾ in. wide by ½ in. deep, spaced 3 ¼ in. on centre (Figure 2). The ¾ in. groove is a relatively new recommendation. The wider groove allows the manure to displace easier under the hooves of the cattle to allow for better contact with the concrete

Diamond Pattern - The traditional approach has been to make the grooves in a diagonal pattern ½ in. wide by 3/8 in. to ½ in. deep spaced 4 in. to 6 in. apart (Figure 3).

Longitudinal grooves are easy to form, but in areas where cattle must make sharp turns, it is a good idea to cross-cut the grooves at an angle spaced 4 in. to 5 in. to create a diamond pattern to improve traction.

Longitudinal grooved flooring in barn

Figure 2. Longitudinal grooves for improving traction

Diamond shaped grooved flooring in barn

Figure 3. Diamond grooving for improving traction

Wet Grooving - It is an art to form the grooves in wet concrete. If they are formed when the concrete is too wet, the grooves will not hold their shape. If the concrete becomes too dry, it will be difficult to form the grooves, and the surface finish may be harmed. Be careful to maintain a flat surface when grooving. Grooving when the concrete is wet displaces concrete, and it is important that the surface does not become curved between grooves. A curved surface will cause cattle to roll their hooves and stumble.

It may be necessary to remove the initial roughness of freshly poured concrete floors that have been wet-grooved. One method is to drag several concrete blocks over the surface until the sharp edges are worn off the concrete. Another method is to use a steel scraper blade on the surface. Either method will remove sharp edges, and help "age" the floor surface and reduce the chance of causing sore feet.

Cutting Grooves - The other method of forming the grooves is to finish the concrete with a broom finish and let it harden for at least 14 days. After the concrete has cured, cut the grooves into the floor. It is easier to obtain more consistent results with this method.

Surface Treatment

Cattle may also experience problems if they are put on concrete before it has finished curing. High surface alkalinity may irritate the skin of the feet, causing pain and possibly making cattle more susceptible to foot infection and lameness. To avoid this problem, allow the concrete to cure properly for 28 days. After this time the concrete is almost totally cured. Hydration, the chemical reaction that takes place during curing, will have slowed down. The concrete can be washed off and cattle can be put on it with little or no effect on their feet. If cows have to be put on before 28 days, allow the concrete to cure for at least 7 days, then wash it with a solution of 40 parts of water to 1 part of Muriatic acid. The acid will neutralize the alkalinity of the floor. The floor should then be thoroughly washed with water to remove the residue.

Some producers have found that spraying the concrete surfaces with linseed oil helps to seal the surface, and prevent foot injuries. A 50:50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and diesel fuel can be used for this purpose.

Treating Worn Floors

Concrete floors can become too smooth from repeated scraping for manure removal. Traction on slippery floors can be improved by cutting grooves into the floor, if it had not been done originally. Another method is to grind or mill small grooves into the entire surface to improve traction (Figure 4).

Grooved flooring showing diamond shapes

Figure 4. Surface Milling Improves Traction

Some finishing barns use slatted floors for raising cattle. Slatted floors can become slippery over time leading to injuries and lameness. Rubber coverings can be installed on the slats to reduce injuries. Rubber coverings on slats have also been shown to increase the average daily gain in the early feeding period. Cattle also stayed cleaner as they neared slaughter weight.

Handling Facilities

It is also important to have good tractive flooring in and around handling facilities. Cattle are often nervous during processing and can easily slip if the floor doesn't provide sufficient traction. Again, a good broom finish and diamond grooving can help in these areas. A liberal use of sand can also provide extra traction if the surface isn't the best and can't be accessed to improve it. It is always a good idea to have a ready supply of sand available when cattle are being moved through areas that may be slippery.

The loading ramp is another critical area of the handling system that requires good traction for moving cattle. First of all a loading ramp with stair steps with a rise of 3 ½ " (height of a 2" x 4") and a run of 12" is best for moving cattle. If it is a sloped ramp, 1" x 2" cleats spaced 8" apart will improve traction. It is also a good idea to remember that cattle will naturally move to a lighted area, so shining a light into the truck will encourage the cattle to move up the ramp. The light must shine into the area where you want the cattle to move to, and not back into the eyes of the cattle moving up the ramp. Once again, the use of sand will aid in cattle movement if the ramp is slippery.

Summary

Floor finishes are important for safe movement of cattle. Pen floors need to be strong and durable, while providing good traction for cattle. Surface texture and grooving can be used on concrete to provide the traction necessary to keep cattle from slipping and injuring themselves. Floors that are too slippery from repeated cleaning can be grooved or have the surface milled to improve traction. The liberal use of sand can also help where floors are imperfect. Make sure that cattle can move confidently on your floors.


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