Cattle health, pen flooring a great combination

Some companies are installing roller compacted concrete (RCC) in feedlot pens, silage pits and other working areas in the agricultural sector.

The cost is substantially less than concrete. The groundwork can be done by the producer if they wish. The better the preparations, the better the end result.

I have first-hand experience with the product and want to relay the production health and economic benefits it may have on cattle production, especially in finishing feedlots.

The company I am most familiar with is Rock Solid in northern Alberta and I believe there are one or two in the south that make and install RCC.

Every time cattle drag through excessive mud or manure on the way to the feed bunk, it takes energy. I have heard many feedlot managers say anything more than about a couple inches of manure or mud costs them money. When it gets much deeper than that, foot and leg injuries, foot rot or interdigital dermatitis can increase.

Studies carried out with this product showed significant reductions in lameness, foot rot and interdigital dermatitis.

My only worry was that this hard surface would increase laminitis and sore feet. My anecdotal conclusion was that the abrasive surface keeps the hoofs more naturally worn and no issues were encountered with laminitis.

Producers still allow a bit of a bedding mound in the middle and the pen density can be increased with no ill consequences, according to a government study. They were talking about pen densities going as low as 80 to 100 sq. feet per animal.

This increased density can lead to more capacity at the feedlot, provided bunk space is available.

We can prevent a lot of feedlot lameness from having good dry footing in the pen. Also keep in mind that you are bedding on the top of this surface and that provides a cushion.

Now we can experiment with other bedding surfaces such as straw, wood chips and other materials to see which works best under different conditions. We know the pens are much drier and sloped to drain so tag is greatly reduced as well.

As well as the numerous health and gain benefits, manure disposal is also much easier. Manure can more easily be piled, and operators are finding 20 percent less manure to haul out. Plus, there is less ash, which is a direct result of not removing any clay, which should prolong the time before the pen needs to be re-landscaped.

We all know about foot rot. Wet conditions lead to introduction of the organism through breaks in the skin. Then mud leads to this organism growing without air.

As well, a newer severe contagious lameness is arriving in the West called interdigital dermatitis and is brought on by wet, dirty surroundings.

RCC flooring in feedlot pens should keep these two diseases at bay.

RCC helps both the infectious types of lameness by eliminating very wet conditions, and the traumatic sprains and strains from pulling through mud or from fighting or getting ridden and not being able to get away.

An Alberta government study indicated that RCC flooring will pay for itself in three to five years, depending on pen size, density, climatic conditions, and which health parameters were greatly improved with the new floor. Cost of gain goes down considerably. This is with pen costs of $50,000 to $75,000 per pen.

Roy Lewis works as a veterinarian in Alberta.

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