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Ask the hoof trimmer: Rubber flooring

Koos Vis Published on 21 September 2011

I recently received a question by telephone about rubber flooring and what it does for the animal. I would like to share this conversation with you – from a hoof trimmer’s perspective.

I have to admit that it is a subject with differing opinions, environments, climates and you name it, and that I certainly do not have all the answers to the flooring options available.

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I would like to start with a statement: “If you have a lot of lameness in your herd and that is the reason you want rubber in your alleys, then you are one station too far.” It is so important to understand the underlying reason for the lameness before deciding on any flooring option.

This reasoning is closely related to the ROI (return on investment) on whatever finishing or covering you decide on. I’ve experienced it with one of our clients and would like to pass this experience on to you.

This client spent a lot of money on rubber flooring to take care of his lameness issues, which affected about 65 percent of the herd. After six months, the lameness was still at the same level, and he shared his dissatisfaction with me.

What had happened was this: He had not trimmed the herd regularly to keep tabs on their hoof health, but instead had invested these perceived “savings” in rubber flooring. He had overestimated the performance and was oversold on the rubber.

This does not mean that rubber is a no-no. I’m not judgmental on rubber – I have to admit, I simply love it.

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However, the cause of the lameness should’ve been dealt with in the first place and only then should a decision have been made about whether rubber would serve a useful purpose. Rubber or other soft floorings are most definitely preferred by the cow; as a matter of fact, they will walk into a train if a strip three feet wide is installed.

Research and experience have shown that lameness prevention is optimized when soft flooring is used. The point is clear: Some homework has to be done regarding the reasons before deciding on any flooring options.

I would like to share some practical pointers as guidance:

1. Before you do anything to prevent or tackle lameness, make a plan, one that has all strategies, options and costs spelled out. Make your flooring decisions part of that plan. Floors are only one piece in the puzzle and certainly not the most important piece.

Nevertheless, neglecting this piece, or making a wrong choice, will perhaps result in a crash.

2. Seek professional help in your local area, from someone who is familiar with your situation, and try to understand the lameness picture and cow comfort.

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3. Understand the practical approach: Do you wash down your alleys, or is scraping the procedure for cleaning? If you scrape, you need to have the rubber flooring installed flush with the floor.

4. Shop around for different rubber or soft flooring options and know their differences, availability and warranties.

5. If you use rubber in the area where the freestalls are, you might see some potential “alley-layers,” particularly when the comfort of the stall is not sufficient to the cow’s liking. Rubber is warmer than concrete and some cows simply “don’t get it.”

6. Recycled rubber belting should be grooved to avoid slipping. Rubber can also get pretty slippery.

7. Rubber requires maintenance, but so does concrete. The latter also has to be taken care of before it becomes a skating rink.

8. I advise soft flooring for cows that have to walk long distances or that are on sloped alleyways or in holding pens; it eliminates overwearing and impact on the claws.

9. Cows still need to be trimmed regularly; it doesn’t matter if they are housed on rubber or on concrete floors.

This was a great chat that my client and I had over the telephone regarding rubber flooring and its purpose. We shared some experiences and learned a lot from each other.

I would like to conclude with a quote: “What works for someone else might not necessarily be your best solution.” Be open-minded, think outside of the box and I wish you success. PD

Vis is the author of a monthly e-newsletter on hoof care topics. To sign up for the newsletter, visit allabouthooves.com or contact Vis at

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