Stall Wars Cows shouldn''t have to battle stalls each time they lie down

October 12, 2009 07:00 PM

Ninety percent of all freestalls simply aren't large enough for today's modern Holstein cow, says Nigel Cook, a veterinarian with the University of Wisconsin vet school.

Narrow, short stalls become a frustrating battle each time a large cow enters. As a result, cows aren't lying down long enough each day.

"Twenty to 25% of our cows in freestalls are lame or limping. It doesn't have to be that way,” Cook says, "if stalls are designed correctly.”

Most freestalls have two problems: They're too narrow and they're too short. A 1,600-lb. Holstein needs a free-stall that is 50" wide. "And in order to maximize width without running into diagonal lying issues, we must provide adequate length for front lunge,” Cook says.

That means stalls need to be 10' long (if facing a wall) and at least 8½' long head-to-head, for total length of 17'.

Cook readily acknowledges these stalls might be too large for first-calf heifers. "While small heifers in larger stalls may well soil the platform more, it makes no sense to punish two-thirds of a pen of mature cows to make sure the stalls are kept clean for the heifers. A compromise must be reached—either with stall dimensions or cow grouping strategies,” he says.

Once stalls are sized properly, the rest of the equipment must be located appropriately to position the animals within the stalls.

Brisket locator. This should be no higher than 41⁄2" above the stall surface. Most cows have difficulty lifting their front legs higher than this when they start their forward lunge to rise.

Cook uses concrete brisket slopes that start 68" to 72" from the rear of the stall. The concrete gradually rises from the bedding surface to a height of 41⁄2" at the front of the stall.

Stall dividers. The upper edge of the lower loop should be 12" above the stall surface. This allows the cow to side lunge through the loop if she chooses, but is high enough that she doesn't place her front leg through the loop while rising. The loop should have an interior diameter of 35", which places the neck rail about 50" above the stall surface.

Neck rail. In mattress stalls, neck rails should be directly above the brisket locator so cows can stand squarely in the stall. In sand-bedded stalls, the neck rail must be moved back a distance equal to the rear curb because cows are reluctant to stand on the raised concrete curb.

Bonus content:

More details on stall design

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