Once you have narrowed down your choice of trailer options based on construction and loading, you need to think about flooring material. Once again, our modern technology offers many choices–from wood to rumber, from aluminum to spray coatings. Which one is really best? Flooring is probably the single most critical part of the trailer in terms of animal safety. I’ve heard many a horror story where part of a floor gave way under the pressure of a heavy hoof, as a trailer was being towed down the road, resulting in a certainly painful death for the animal that was still inside the trailer. Once again, I must emphasize that I am not offering a tested, scientific view, rather more of my observations and experiences, the results of our research, and the opinions of manufacturers, dealers, and other experienced livestock folks we encountered during our research.
Traditionally, since trailers were created, they were made of wood. While some high-end trailers may use harder soft woods, in the interest of economy and competitive pricing, most use pine boards. Usually, these pine boards are sealed in some way, but not always. I have seen rough-cut lumber used in cheaper brands.
The big plus side of wood is that if something happens to the floor, it is easily replaceable or repairable. Wood offers some limited traction, even when wet (though a sealant may decrease this traction). In addition, soft wood has some limited “give” which can increase the comfort of the animals slightly.
The downside of wood is that it does rot. As a general rule, you should plan to replace the floor at least once, maybe more, during the life of the trailer. While it can rot quickly, routine cleaning and maintenance can certainly extend it’s life. You can also give it a regular coating of some type of oil-based finish to help with water-repellant properties. The most common place to see the early stages of rot occurring is along the very edges, in grooves between the wood and frame or the wood and the wall panels, where manure and urine tend to collect (even with mats). It also happens to be an area that many folks forget to clean. Another downside of wood is that is one of the heaviest flooring materials. When combined with mats, it can increase the weight of the trailer–by a significant percentage for a small trailer.
If you are considering a used trailer, be sure to lift up anything covering the floor boards and inspect the boards very carefully. Check the very edges, and in between, where grime may accumulate. Look underneath to ensure someone didn’t simply sand the top of the boards to improve their look for sale. The underneath could be a dead giveaway for a poor floor. Finally, don’t forget that rot can occur in a random fashion. If you lift up just one corner of a mat, you may see a nice-looking floor. However, if you go a little further, you may find a 6″ area that is ready to give way. It’s all based on how the moisture and decay-causing organisms accumulate, most often via seams in the mats and along the edges.
Aluminum flooring has become popular for all the same (misunderstood) reasons that all-aluminum trailers have. It is often thought to be lighter weight, rust resistant, and longer lasting than wood. Like other aluminum parts of the trailer, you must consider the facts further. One consideration is that an aluminum floor requires far more support than, say, a wood floor. Whereas wood slats would usually run the length of the trailer, aluminum slats are sometimes fixed between perpendicular supports. This additional support tends to defeat the argument that the flooring saves weight. In addition, those extra seams and often-hollow, open-ended planks create additional gaps for urine and manure to accumulate.
Likewise, while aluminum is, indeed, rust resistant, it is not corrosion resistant. As I discussed in the post on material construction, urine and salt water (from roads) is highly corrosive to aluminum, and therefore can weaken your floor very quickly. Unlike a wood floor, which can be replaced quite easily and inexpensively, an aluminum floor repair would often have to be taken to a specialized repair shop, and it would not be cheap! In addition, those extra seams mentioned in the previous paragraph, and the often hollow, open-ended planks create additional gaps for urine and manure to accumulate. It can be difficult, if not impossible to get the collected muck out of the inside of the planks, and of course, the longer it sits, the more corrosive it is. Like wood, however, a thorough, routine cleaning after use can help prevent this problem and extend the life of the floor.
Some manufacturers tout the benefits of their “extruded” aluminum. All this term means is that the planks are formed by the extruding process, or forcing the soft aluminum through a compression mold to shape it. While the compression can offer a bit more strength than the raw aluminum, I’m not convinced it’s a benefit worth bragging about.
Other designs to these floors that can provide some benefit are corrosion-protectant covering and spaced design. The coverings will deteriorate or get scraped off over time (though mats can extend the life). The spaced design can allow urine to trickle out, but it isn’t fool proof. Any one who has cleaned a toilet can attest to the fact that urine seems to find a way to stick to everything! I have seen solid aluminum-sheet floors, such as diamond plate, which does reduce the seams somewhat, preventing accumulation of urine in gaps, but these floors are often installed in sections, and require welding (see Post 3 for more details on anode-cathode reactions). A big downside to these solid sheets is that they do not allow drainage of the urine, either causing a very wet and slippery floor or copious amounts of bedding to absorb all the urine.
Finally, a big consideration regarding aluminum is the fact that it is a very slippery metal, and it is very noisy. Raised traction areas, such as those provided by diamond-plate flooring, can help provide traction for the animals, however some type of rubber matting is recommended for the best traction and the quietest loading and ride.
Rumber is a composite mixture of 60% recycled rubber and 40% recycled plastic. The rubber and plastic are melted down and extruded (molded) into planks or sheets. Planks may be seperated by space when installed, or they may have a tongue-and-groove design. If intended for trailers, the planks are often grooved on the top for traction. Upon further research, I found that the rumber floors are quite heavy–slightly heavier than the combination of a wood plank floor and a thick mat covering. If the rumber is all you use, this weight difference wouldn’t be very substantial. Many reviews I read, however, felt the rumber didn’t provide any drainage of wet materials, and therefore, could get very slippery. As a result, reviewers often added rubber mats and bedding on top anyway, completely defeating the purpose of spending the extra money on rumber instead of wood planks.
Other complaints were that the grooves wore down pretty quickly, meaning any benefits of the extra traction provided were lost. The floor was also found to be quite flexible, and some reviewers questioned whether the strength would truly hold and support large amounts of weight (ie a heavy hoof) without warping or splitting. However, I didn’t find any proof of the latter actually happening. While random reviewers seemed very pleased overall with their flooring, far more reviewers hated it and regretted making the additional purchase. I even came across one dealer whose customers had been so unhappy with their rumber floors, he had a standing offer to add rubber mats at no extra charge if they weren’t happy, and he said most of his rumber-purchasing customers had returned for mats.
A plus for the rumber was the ease of cleaning. Most reviewers claimed that it was indeed a very simple process to sweep out any shavings/bedding material, hose it out and be done with it. It was the most positive feature that seemed to exist.
On the other hand, the rumber sheets they make seem to be very useful as a protective lining for the side walls of the trailer rather than the floor. A thinner, smoother material, the sheets would never work as flooring. However, the ease of cleaning, the water-proof nature of the construction, the aesthetic look provided, and the cushion provided by the rubber in the event of a kick to the wall, results in rumber being a rather good option as a side wall covering.
Polylast and WERM:
A newer flooring option is known as Polylast. I have seen this material used frequently on playgrounds and running tracks. Like rumber, it is recycled rubber, but rather than being extruded into a shape, it is a semi-liquid mixture (mixed with a special “glue” of sorts) that is sprayed or poured on. It also comes in a variety of colors. Unlike rumber, it is a very porous material, with just enough glue sealant to hold the rubber pieces together. According the manufacturer and fans, advantages of this flooring were the fact that you could spray/pour it onto any type of hard flooring and automatically provide a tremendous amount of well-drained, easy-to-clean, cushioned flooring. One reviewer who had 3 full-sized, commercial stock trailers using Polylast, claimed that after a trip, all 3 trailers could be simply hosed and cleaned out in 20 minutes total. Another advantage I have observed with this material is that it gives slightly, but bounces right back quickly after some type of compression (ie hoof stepping on it).
My big concern about the Polylast was the effectiveness of the porosity. My personal experience with Polylast on playgrounds and tracks was that the pores easily and quickly clogged with dust and debris. Once the grit was in there, it was impossible to remove. It simply stayed. Granted, the material still drained very well despite the clogs, and was still very cushy (think, walking on a very firm mattress). This caused more concern, however, as the floor is permanent. You cannot remove Polylast once installed. So, each time you clean the flooring, grit and grime gets carried down into the pores, and to the actual floor underneath (think wood or aluminum for a moment). When rinsed, the water will help dilute urine, but some of the urine is bound to get hung up and trapped in the pores and spaces between the polylast and the original floor. There is no way to clean these areas. I confess, I have no proof. As far as I can find, tests and studies have not been done. However, common sense tells me that anytime you have grit, grime, urine, and manure, combined with occasional moisture that cannot dry quickly, you are setting your original floor up for rapid rot, rust, or corrosion. Another complaint I often came across with Polylast was that, over time, chunks would chip off.
Now, that being said, Polylast offers a sealant option, where they install the floor material, then paint on a thick sealant which fills all pores, and makes it totally water proof. This would be an option, but this eliminates the porosity, thereby eliminating the drainage advantage. To prevent the floor from becoming one big puddle of urine and manure, you must add absorbent bedding, thereby essentially eliminating the advantage of the Polylast to begin with. In this case, you really should question whether it’s worth the extra expense.
WERM flooring would be comparable to the sealed Polylast floor, but it is poured much tighter. This reduces the number of pores available to clog to begin with, but also increases the weight of the flooring.
I spoke with one trailer dealer who advised wholeheartedly AGAINST using either, and would not recommend them to his customers.
If you have driven trailers at any time, you have likely come across rubber mats as flooring. The advantage of these mats is that they can easily be cut to size for the trailer, installed over any flooring material, are water proof which protects the floor underneath from urine exposure, are easy to simply sweep and hose off, are removable for thorough cleaning, offer great traction even when wet (think wearing tennis shoes vs. hard-sole shoes on an icy day), offer cushion to prevent leg fatigue of the stock, and are relatively inexpensive. For a custom fit from a professional, you are usually looking at a few hundred dollars as compared to one to two thousand dollars for some of the other options. If a custom fit doesn’t concern you, smaller mats can be purchased at most farm stores and just set inside, providing many of the benefits for a much cheaper price, but just not quite fitting all the way from side to side.
There are of course downsides as well. Like rumber and sealed polylast, mats are totally waterproof, and therefore you may desire an absorbent bedding on top. Like rumber, they can be slick when wet, but unlike rumber or polylast, they may wear a little faster under major stressors (such as studded horse shoes). However, sections can be easily replaced if they begin to wear. The biggest downside (and complaint from users) is that they are incredibly heavy. They definitely aren’t a flooring you want to have to remove after EVERY use, assuming you use the trailer frequently. With this type of flooring, you are more likely to postpone thorough cleaning to once or twice a year, due simply to the extra time and effort needed to handle the mats. One compromise solution (I have used in the past) is to use a good, absorbent bedding to decrease the amount of urine and manure that can flow to the edges, and thoroughly sweep and hose the top of the mats after each use, taking care to limit the grime that gets washed into the corner gaps. You can always assume at least 1-2 inches of the edge of the floors underneath will still get wet though, so I would simply stick a few objects under the mats to lift them slightly at the edges, to increase airflow and allow the floor to quickly dry. Then, about every 6 months, we would pull the mats out and scrub the entire trailer top to bottom, dry it thoroughly, and put the mats back in place. Of course, anyone with experience can tell you that removing mats is no easy task in itself. You can simplify this task to a one person job, though, by simply drilling 2 small holes near the front and back edge. They should be spaced at least 3.5 feet apart, but can go as far as each corner. When it is time to remove the mats, insert a hay hook into the 2 holes on the rear edge, and pull. The further apart the holes are, the more the mat will bend in the middle (necessary to fit it through some small horse trailer doors). For stock trailers, there is no need to fold, so drill where you feel most comfortable. When it’s time to re-install the mats, simply use the hooks in the front holes to drag the mats into the trailer and lay them in place. As long as the holes are small and you use absorbent bedding, minimal grime will get into them. Plus, but making the mat removal easier, you will be more likely to clean your trailer more thoroughly, more often.
Well, there you have it! Like everything else, each type of flooring has it’s pros and cons. If you are hauling well-trained, calm and relaxed horses, you have more options than if you are hauling loose-manure producing cattle or horses prone to diarrhea–in which case you would want to avoid anything that is difficult to clean well. With this in mind, it is up to you to determine how much you are willing to spend, and whether the benefits outweigh the downsides for that type of flooring. Have fun with your search!