For Holsteins, freestalls should be at least 48" wide and 8½' to 9' long. Widths of 50" to 54" may be required for large cows, says Nigel Cook, University of Wisconsin veterinarian.
Facility evaluation makes such daily production possible
Brian Brown calls his new freestall cow barn a five-star hotel for his bovine beauties.
The "hotel" is designed to accommodate mature cows that often tip the scales at 1,600 lb. to 1,650 lb. The six-row, 330-stall barn features freestalls that are 50" wide, 17' long head-to-head, and 10' long on the outside rows. The stalls have a limestone base, overlain with a permeable cover and rubber mattress that allow liquids to seep through. Each bed is covered with 3" of clean sand.
"Originally, in our older barn, we over-crowded a bit. But that doesn’t pay. Our philosophy now is one cow per stall," says Brown, who milks 500 cows near Belleville, Wis., just a few miles south of Madison.
In addition to having enough beds and stalls, bunk space and headlocks are at a premium in the new six-row barn. And since Brown milks three times per day, his cows have a limited time budget to milk, eat and rest.
After moving into the new barn, Brown’s cows have rewarded him with a tank average that routinely exceeds 100 lb. per cow per day.
Brown is among a growing number of Wisconsin dairy producers who have reached the 100-lb. mark. In fact, the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Veterinary Medicine offered a tour last spring of herds that are maintaining this level of production, and they’re planning another such tour this fall.
The herds, including Browns’, have participated in the UW Vet School’s Dairyland Initiative, a web-based, interactive program in which farms submit their current or proposed facility designs for evaluation. The whole idea is to catch potential problems before they’re poured into concrete.
"When the builder finishes the job and cows enter the new [or remodeled] barn, the lender and dairy producer must live with the results," says Nigel Cook, a UW veterinarian who developed the Dairyland Initiative along with fellow veterinarian Ken Nordlund. "Poor facilities lead to poor results."
"The Dairyland Initiative aims to prevent this situation—before any money is spent on a building—through the use of a risk assessment," Nordlund says.
Producers start by submitting building plans. The Dairyland Initiative program coordinators then perform the risk assessment on the plan, which includes examining barn layout, freestall design, ventilation systems, feed and water space, and so on.
Brian Brown was among the first users—and believers. "In our first barn, Nigel Cook came out to do research on lame cow behavior. He set up a video camera and taped cows in the alleyways and stalls to determine their time budgets," Brown explains.
Cook found that lameness and stall design significantly impacted cow time budgets and the opportunity for rest.
At the time, Brown’s stalls were only 45" wide, too short to allow front lunge with the neck rails being placed too close to the rear curb. So the decision was made to widen stalls to a full 48" and lengthen the outside-row freestalls 2' under the eaves to provide more lunge space. Neck rails were also moved forward.
"Before we made the improvements, the cows always seemed restless and unsettled. Now, they’re relaxed, less agitated and cleaner," Brown says.
- October 2013