Promat Inc., based out of Ontario, Canada, recently launched the Pasture Gel Mat, a cow mattress engineered to improve cow comfort while providing the same comfort factors as sand bedding.
Andy Jenkins, general manager at Promat, says the creation of this mattress was made possible by linking scientific technology with cow comfort.
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Jenkins says the company created the original pasture mat 18 years ago, and now have three million cows on these pasture mats in 42 countries around the world.
However, developing a new mat was essential when dairy producers began asking for a mat that would provide the same advantages as sand bedding without the associated adverse manure management factors.
The original pasture mat is a multi-celled mattress filled with rubber crumbs made from recycled tires.
A layer of polyurethane foam is placed atop the mattress, and it is all covered by either a polypropylene wax or rubber-coated top cover.
The pasture gel mat, however, is a gel-filled polyvinyl chloride (PVC) mattress. These new mats use the same top covers as the original pasture mats.
The first gel mat was introduced on a dairy farm a year ago. Now, three dairies in Ontario, Canada; two dairies in Pennsylvania; one dairy in Florida and another in California installed the gel mats during the company’s trial run.
Wilf Strenzke, a dairy producer from Ontario, had the gel mattresses installed on a portion of the barn on his 110-cow dairy for the past six months as a product trial.
“I’ve noticed the cows and think they prefer to lay on them,” says Strenzke.
Strenzke says that the mattresses have retained their shape very well and there is no compression of the material, like there would be with rubber-filled mattresses.
“The first gel mattresses that were installed didn’t last,” says Strenzke. “They went back and reformulated the construction of the mattresses; now, I think they have a quality product.”
The gel mat underwent a two-year research and development period prior to being launched on the market. Promat engineers worked to ensure that the gel mattress would, in fact, be increase cow comfort.
The engineers used scientific real-time digital pressure point body-mapping technology. This concept is the same technology used in hospitals to alleviate the pain burn victims experience while lying down.
Promat purchased pressure point mapping mats that were computer-driven and put them under dairy cows during the product’s development stage.
The use of this technology allowed the engineers to determine the pressure points of a cow that is lying down. They were then able to devise a product that would address and improve cow comfort.
These pressure point mapping mats were used in different cow stall environments, such as tiestalls and freestalls. They were also used along with a combination of matting choices like solid rubber mats and even the original pasture mats.
“We are also going to put them into sand beds, with the goal of alleviating the cow’s pressure points and reducing the red seen on the pressure mapping screen,” Jenkins says.
Working with dairymen that use sand bedding is a goal for Promat. Jenkins said that dairy producers asked for a product similar to sand bedding but that would actually eliminate the use of sand in the barn.
“We have tried to mimic the feel of sand using gel in a contained environment,” Jenkins says. “We have provided a cushion of gel.”
An adverse effect of using sand is that a cow can kick 50 pounds of sand up out of her stall into the alleyway in one day, Jenkins says.
That sand eventually makes its way into the lagoons, causing them to fill up more quickly, which will add costs to the producer, who will then have to dig them out.
Sand is also hard on pumps and manure lines that run throughout the dairy.
“Sand is great for the cow,” Jenkins says. “But it is also very hard to work with and hard on the dairyman as far as equipment wear and cost.”
An advantage of the gel mats is that they are self-adjusting. In sand beds, the cow will step down into the bed and leave a footprint.
With the gel mat, no footprint is everlasting. When the cow stands up and leaves her stall, the footprint will be gone as the gel shifts.
The pasture gel mats are easy to clean. All the producer has to do is basically sweep off any dirt.
Manure will not stick to the top cover because the gel mats will shift from the movement of the cow; a crust will not form and the manure will not adhere to the cover due to the constant movement.
Jenkins says the product is very cost-effective, beginning with low shipping costs. In the past, a total of 350 mattresses could be shipped in one truckload.
Now, the gel mattresses can be folded up and packaged in pallets, allowing for more that 2,000 mattresses to be shipped at one time on a 48-foot truck.
When the mats arrive at the dairy, the dairy producer pulls them out of the box, puts them in the cow stalls and adds water from a hose.
The mixture of the powder and water immediately begins to gel. However, research performed on the mats shows that all the powder completely turns to gel within 12 hours and is then ready for use.
Jenkins points out that even though the mattresses were lightweight upon arrival on the farm, once filled with water, the mattresses are extremely heavy, weighing over 200 pounds.
The average cost of the gel mats, per cow space, is $250 to $300. Jenkins say the gel mattresses pay for themselves quickly when compared to the cost of replacing sand and taking into consideration the wear and tear of equipment, and the cost of digging out lagoons.
A typical bed, or cow space, is 48 inches wide by 67 to 72 inches long, Jenkins says. The gel mattresses are 48 inches wide and 67 inches long. Also provided are spacer mats that are 67 inches long and 12 inches wide. The spacer mats are used as buffers in case there are any gaps within the stalls.
Jenkins says that the biggest hurdle the company encountered during the testing and research stage was creating a mattress skin that was the correct strength with reinforcements to the scrim material that would make the product durable. In addition to lab testing, the gel mats have also been put to the test on dairies.
“We have had tractors drive over the mats and have performed other destructive testing in order to create the right mattress skin that is strong enough,” Jenkins says.
These gel mats are not targeted towards a specific type of dairy because they can adjust to fit any size operation. Jenkins says that because the product was only recently launched, the lifespan of the product hasn’t yet been determined.
“It’s a bit of a guessing game, because we don’t have proof and since this product hasn’t been out in the market over 20 years,” Jenkins says. “However, our accelerated testing is showing that these gel mats will have a 15-year to 20-year lifespan. “
Jenkins says that ultimately, the bottom line of the gel mat is to increase cow comfort while increasing cow lying time. This will increase blood flow to the udder, which increases milk production, which increases the bottom line for the dairyman. PD