paving farm roads…

…in Southern Norway…

road use…

Roads tend to take up valuable area on a farm, so unless they're absolutely necessary we prefer not to have roads. On the other hand: one can hardly run a farm efficiently without a minimal roadstructure in place, so what we need is various types of roads, tailored to their respective use for optimal usability under all weather conditions and minimal negative impact on the environment.

  1. access road to the farm-yard, for ordinary cars and relatively heavy commercial trucks and farm machinery.
  2. access roads between farm-yard and the fields and other areas, for heavier farm machinery.
  3. relatively narrow cow-paths between barn and pastures, used mostly by the cows as the “name” suggests, but also by small/light farm machines.

Cows use whatever road that leads in the direction they want to go, but in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts we prefer that they stay on dedicated cow-paths. They will if they like the paths, and they like them best if they've participated in creating the paths.

problematic cow-paths…

An ideal cow-path is a pretty narrow path – around 60 cm wide, solid and with good grip for cow-hoofs under all conditions. Concrete slabs are ideal except under icy conditions, but we prefer thick gravel-roads covered with a thin layer of soil. We provide the gravel, and the cows provide the soil – cow-dung mostly.

The cow-path itself may be narrow, but the gravel-road should work for wide-body cows, people and small/light machinery, so it needs to be wider – around 180 cm width fit the bill on our farm.
The cows may then use the entire width when passing each other, but will otherwise create the narrow path by following in each other's footsteps until there's a clearly marked and prepared – somewhat soft – path.

After a while such a cow-path looks like a tire-imprint from heavy machines, and the gravel-layer below is compacted solid. Provides good footing – even when icy since the soil/cow-dung tends to give frozen hoof-imprints with rough surfaces, and the cows won't sink in even if the dirt-layer is pretty thick. Most of the dirt will disappear during the next rain-fall anyway.

provide space

At intervals there must be wider areas along the paths so the cows can pass each other and reorganize themselves, as conflicts may otherwise arise and nearby fences may be broken to pieces as a result. No use quarrelling with a heard of half-a-ton cows when they're quarrelling between themselves. They'll ignore “outsiders” until they've settled whatever business they have with each others.
Solution: make space and stand aside.

Such wider areas along the cow-paths may be good places for water-posts, as having a drink while on the road from “A” to “B” suits a cow just fine. If there's a shade the cow may not even want to go any further on a warm, sunny, afternoon, until well after all the others have passed.

on the wrong path

Cows can negotiate pretty narrow paths where the smallest machines have no access and even humans can have problems finding space for their feet. Cows are also relatively good hillside-climbers for their size, but can sometimes be a bit too optimistic and over-confident and get themselves into trouble.

Cows will always seek what they find to be the easiest path to where they want to go, regardless of what we provide and where we want them to go. Stubborn creatures – you can't tell a cow much, she tells you.

cows compact the ground

Ground-pressure depends on body-weight and footprint-size. Cows are adapted to the terrain they have grown up in/on over the last few thousand years, so there are quite large racial differences for both weight and size of footprint. Add in a bit of well-meant but not always entirely successful cross-breeding and cross-area exchange, and the result may be a cow that doesn't fit the terrain all that well.

Now, don't tell the experts that they got it all wrong, but although the average NRF cow is a good breed she's less suited for our local terrain than the somewhat smaller cow she replaced. We have remedied this a bit by mixing in Jersey, but personally I think the original old race was better in every respect.

One of our average NRF cows puts a lot higher pressure on the ground she's walking on than the heaviest farm machine does when rolling over, so the compacting-effect can be enormous compared with what normal roads are exposed to by wheeled machinery. In comparison a human had to spread around 2 metric tons of weight on its two legs to achieve the same ground-pressure. No wonder cows can sink in really deep when walking across soggy fields.

Cows generally don't like to walk on loose gravel, so they may not like entirely new gravel-paths and roads and may prefer to stay off them if/when they can. Compacting with machines helps, but pouring a thin layer of soil in a narrow strip on top of the gravel for the cows to walk on, works best. After a season the chosen path is perfectly compacted by the cows.

wear and tear

Cows cause wear and tear on roads and cow-paths, but more important – those roads also cause wear and tear on the cows' hoofs. Since a cow's hoofs grow like toenails (since that's what they are) we either have to trim them manually with regular intervals, or make sure the cow herself takes care of it as part of her daily routines.

Various terrain and surface-structure cause varying degree of wear and tear on those hoofs. Making sure the cows daily walk on surfaces that slowly wear them down, is usually enough to keep them in good shape. Having good, not too flat and slick, cow-paths and roads play a significant role in keeping our cows healthy.

We check each cow's walking-pattern as they walk in and out at milking-time, and as long as she walk well on all four legs, and her hoofs are in good shape and show no signs of excessive damage and/or rot, both we and the cow are happy.

cows should be given separate paths

Ideally cows should not use roads meant for farm machinery, as cows tend to create narrow paths and pack the surface unevenly – making the road a bit bumpy for heavy and wide machines. Negotiating cow-dung left on the roads isn't always fun either.

However, having cow-paths alongside the wider farm roads is impractical near the barn and farm-yard, so we accept that some stretches of these roads must be evened out for machines now and then.

We do keep the cows off the main roads used by visitors and commercial traffic though, at least most of the time. For whatever reason not all visitors like to be greeted by friendly but curious NRF cows, maybe because of their size.

Parked cars may also not look their best once a few cows have studied them well, so separation does have its purpose.


As mentioned above: you can't tell a cow much, she tells you. She's most often right too, so even when it comes to cow-paths – where they should go and what they should be made of, we tend to listen.

This cooperation between farmer and farm-animals usually works out quite well, even though the farmer may be a bit slow and doesn't always take a hint first time. After a while the cow-paths are paved as and where the cows want them, and the four-legged partners are happy and cooperative. Who can ask for more.

sincerely  georg; sign

Hageland 04.jun.2008
last rev: 09.jun.2008

paving farm roads…

I told you this was my path, didn't I? Now, get out of my way.
— Gyda 'the black n' white cow'

Ok, the others have passed now, so the path is clear. Must hurry in to get my share of the corn.
— Mai 'the white n' red cow'

I hear you're calling, but I haven't walked this path before so I'm a bit skeptic.
— Britt 'the oldest Jersey cow'

…2007 - 2008