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Success of Stall Measured in Inches, Not Feet

Aug 07, 2014

When was the last time you really looked to see if your cows have enough space in their freestalls?

By Tom Lorenzen, Alltech Dairy Specialist

Stop, look and listen to your cows. When was the last time you spent some time observing your herd in their freestalls? What did you hear and see?

Cows don’t lie when it comes to how they prefer to lie down. Cows lying backwards are often turning away from stall features they dislike and pointing to open space needed for freedom of normal motion.

Cows lie in the stall in one of four normal resting positions: wide, narrow, short and long. The short resting position is where the cow can place her head next to her body. She can also groom herself while lying down. It’s natural behavior to see a cow in the wide position, sunning herself in the pasture. In the freestall, the cow will rest more on her side with the rear legs extended. In the long position, the cow rests with her head extended forward.

No matter what position the cow chooses, the freestall needs to provide the cow the freedom to rest with her legs, udder and tail on the platform. Every dairy needs to provide a clean, dry and comfortable stall so that cows can lie down 10 to 14 hours per day.

One dairy I recently visited had many rough and bruised top lines on its cows. More than 33%  of the cows perched in their stalls.

We made spacers to raise the neck rail up from 42 inches to 50 and perching went down 20%. It is important to remember the neck rail positions the cow to stand up so that she can defecate in the alley.

The dairy also removed the concrete and 2x8 brisket boards. They used sand in the front of the stalls as brisket locators and perching went down another 2%. Milk production increased by 4 lb. per cow and the dairy also noticed a decrease in lameness.

Without a brisket locator, a cow will lie too far forward so when she gets up she will disrupt three other cows lying down. We can reduce these events with a deterrent strap.

A deterrent strap must not interfere with the upward bobbing of the head. A suggested placemat
is 0.7 x rump height above stall surface (cow’s feet). A deterrent strap, not a steel cable, will reduce the number of cows walking through the stalls.

Also, if there is not enough sand in the front of the stall to act as the "‘brisket locator’" to position the cow, then she tends to lay too far forward in the stall and then crawls backward to get up to avoid pain from the neck rail.

Once sand is added, the dairy should use a tool to level out the stalls so that the cows have a nice, soft, even bed to lie down in. What causes cows to lie diagonally in their stall? The answer is inadequate lunge space and too short of a resting space.

We also need to remember the dry/transition cows when it comes to space. We need to provide a minimum of 150 square feet per cow and 30 to 36 inches of bunk space. We also need to ensure we are providing enough water space for these cows. A dry cow has 45 to 60 days to re-charge her battery for the next lactation. Are we providing enough feed bunk space and water space for these cows?

According to Dr. Neil Anderson, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there are six cow freedoms to consider in stall design:

1. Freedom to stretch their front legs forward
2. Freedom to lie on their sides with unobstructed space for their neck and head
3. Freedom to rest their heads against their sides without hindrance from a partition
4. Freedom to rest with their legs, udder and tails on the platform
5. Freedom to stand or lie without fear or pain from neck rails, partitions or supports
6. Freedom to rest on a clean, dry and soft bed

In conclusion, it’s important to remember a cow’s stall is designed to allow the cow to get up straight in the stall without pain or injury. The success of the stall is measured in inches, not feet. Always do what is best for your cow and provide continuous training for parlor efficiency.

Tom Lorenzen is an Alltech On-Farm Support Manager in Juneau, Wis. Prior to joining Alltech, Lorenzen spent 10 years with a feed ingredient company looking for non-nutritional bottlenecks that affect quality milk production and performance. His interest in the dairy industry led him to develop the Udder Health and Sanitation program for a major milking equipment company. His focus with Alltech is on three areas: dairy audits, education through milking technician schools, and education through milk quality presentations to the dairy industry. He has spoken at the World Dairy Expo in China, the Cigal Dairy Show in Mexico, and the National Mastitis Council Meeting in the U.S. Contact him at

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