Dairy Cow Comfort - Free-stall Dimensions
- Choices - stall maintenance & manure system
- Cow dimensions
- Space requirements
- Stall dimensions as ratios of body dimensions
- Neck rail
- Forward or diagonal lunge
- Loops and Stall Width
- End stalls
- Bed length and slope
- Stall length and height
- Brisket locator
- Area forward of the brisket locator
- Deterrent strap or pipe - open front stalls
- Sand-bedded stalls
- Stall base and bedding
- Bedding - manure system & lame cows
- Stocking density & social turmoil
- Bunk space
- Feed bunk restraint
- Manger curb and feed table (manger)
- Steps and elevations
- Diagrams, reading list & contact information
Cow measurements and their space requirements are needed to design stalls. Stall dimensions must be appropriate for standing, lying, rising and resting without injury, pain or fear. Stalls must meet the needs of the cow for comfort and the caregiver for cleanliness and ease of cleaning. This document describes cow dimensions, space requirements and stall dimensions for modern Canadian Holstein cows. The concepts shown in Tables 1 and 2 may be used to design stalls for Holstein heifers or other dairy breeds.
2. Choices - Stall Maintenance/Manure System
- Choice of manure system and commitment to stall maintenance play an important role in determining our choices in stall design.
- For example, a once-per-day stall cleaning protocol may not be compatible with stall dimensions that focus on comfort of the cow.
- University of British Columbia (UBC) research has shown that stall usage is greatest with a 50-inch-wide stall compared to a 45-inch stall. Increased soiling accompanied greater stall usage.
- Although more acceptable to cows, the wider stalls require more daily maintenance.
- At the outset, one must decide if the choice in stalls will be based on ease of maintenance, greatest use by the cows, or a compromise between those two ends of the spectrum.
- Automation of stall cleaning could sway producers to choose larger, cow-friendly stalls.
- The choice of stall surface, bedding material and manure handling system must be compatible.
3. Cow Dimensions
- Cows vary in size between and within herds. The first step in planning stall size is the measurement of Lactation 1 and mature cows in your herd. Rump heights and hook-bone widths are useful measures to estimate several other body dimensions.
- Since several body dimensions are proportional, ratios provide reasonable estimates of dimensions for calves, heifers or other dairy breeds.
Figure 1. Variation in cow size within and between herds highlights the need to measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.
- Stalls may be built in three sizes (sized for Lactation 1 heifers, milking cows and dry or special-needs cows) in recognition of the variation in cow size and their needs within a herd.
- Measure small, medium and large cows.
- A barn with one stall size poses several challenges to both management and cows. Stall and cow cleanliness, labor, mastitis, foot diseases and cow comfort are issues to consider in one-group barns.
- Table 1 shows measurements of mature Canadian Holsteins taken at a local herd and some calculated proportions. For example, the cows had a rump height of 60 inches, a nose-to-tail length of 8.5 feet and a hook-bone width of 25 inches.
Table 1. Body dimensions, example measurements for mature Holsteins, and estimated ratios to rump height and hook-bone width.
|Nose-to-tail||length 102 (range 96-110)||1.6 x rump height|
|Imprint length - resting||72 (68-76)||1.2 x rump height|
|Imprint width||52 (48-54)||2 * x hook- bone width|
|Forward lunge space||24 (23-26)||0.4 x rump height|
|Stride length when rising||18||0.3 x rump height|
|Rump height - mature||Median 60(range 58-64)|
|Rump height -Lactation 1||Median 58, top 25% - 59|
|Stance - front-to-rear feet||60 (range 58-64)||1.0 x rump height|
|Withers (shoulder) height||60 (range 58-64)||1.0 x rump height|
|Hook-bone width||26 (range 24-27)|
- A 1350-lb cow uses 118 in longitudinal space when lying and 43 in lateral space. (Univ. Brit. Columbia research)
- Observations of cows freely lying and rising reveal that a mature Canadian Holstein cow uses 102 x 52 inches of living space and another 20 inches (16 to 24 inches) of open forward space for lunging motions.
- Figures 2 & 3 show several cow dimensions that define this living space.
- Nose-to-tail length describes the measurement from the tail to the nose of a cow standing with her head forward. A cow has a normal crook in her neck when lying and her nose-to-tail length is less than while standing.
Figure 2. Several cow measurements taken on standing cows are useful for building free stalls. Other essential measurements are imprint length and imprint width of resting cows.
- Imprint length describes the length from folded foreknee to tail while lying in the narrow position. It defines the bed length needed for resting with all body parts on the stall. Imprint length is greater when the cow extends her front legs forward in normal (long) resting positions.
- Imprint width is the lateral distance from the point of the hock on the upper hind leg and the extension of the abdomen on the opposite side when resting in the narrow position. This width is the minimum stall width for a resting cow.
- For improved comfort, most new free-stall barns are being built with stalls wider than the imprint width of a cow in the narrow resting position.
Figure 3. Imprint length extends from the folded foreknee to the tail (see arrows) when lying in the narrow position. This length defines the bed length of a stall.
- Lunging space is the room needed for lying and rising motions and it extends forward, downward and upward for head lunge and bob, vertically and forward for standing, and laterally for hindquarter movements.
- Knowledge of the lunging space is essential for properly positioning neck, deterrent straps or bars, solid stall fronts or provision for social space in open-front, head-to-head stalls.
- A cow's nose uses the space 4 to 12 inches above the surface when lying or rising.
Figure 4. Imprint width is the lateral distance from the left hock to the right abdomen - a distance of about 52 inches for this cow. It increases when the rear legs extend outwards or the cow reclines in wide resting positions.
Figure 5. While rising freely on pasture, a cow uses the forward, downward and vertical space outlined by the white lines in the photograph. While rising, this cow lunged forward about 22% of her resting nose-to-tail length.
5. Stall Dimensions as Ratios of Body Dimensions
- Although nose-to-tail length is essential, it is a difficult dimension to gather.
- Hook-bone width and rump height are easy to measure and since many body dimensions are proportional these two dimensions are useful references for sizing stalls.
- Table 2 shows stall dimensions, estimated relationships to body dimensions and example calculations for mature Holsteins in a study herd.
- Figures 42-43, at the end of this document, show head-to-head stalls and example dimensions.
- Measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.
6. Neck Rail
- The neck rail (sometimes called a head rail) is the restraint (often a pipe) mounted to the top or underside of the top pipe of a loop.
- A neck rail controls the forward location of a cow while standing in the stall. It affects stall standing, perching, and stall cleanliness but not lying.
- The reference for vertical placement of the neck rail is the standing surface (e.g., mattress, mat, and bedding) for the cow's feet.
- Measure from the concrete platform during construction and allow for the bed.
- The vertical location above the bed is about 0.8 x rump height. It may be 48 inches for Lactation 1 heifers or 50 inches for mature cows.
Table 2. Stall dimensions, estimated relationships to body dimensions and example calculations for mature Holsteins
|Stall Dimension||Ratio and Reference Body Dimension||An Example a median cow|
|Stall length from curb to solid front||2.0 x rump height||2.0 x 60 =120 in.|
|Stall length for open front head-to-head||1.8 x rump height||1.8 x 60 =108 in.|
|Bed length = imprint length||1.2 x rump height||1.2 x 60 = 72 in.|
|Neck-rail height above cow's feet||0.83 x rump height||0.83 x 60 =50 in.|
|Neck-rail forward location = bed length-2||(1.2 x rump height)-2||(1.2 x 60)-2 =70 in.|
|Deterrent strap in open-front stalls - 18-ft.||0.6 x rump height||0.6 x 60 = 36 in.|
|Deterrent strap in open-front stalls - 16-ft.||0.7 x rump height||0.7 x 60 = 42 in.|
|Stall width - loops on centres||2.0 x hook-bone width||2.0 x 25 = 50 in.|
|Space between brisket locator and loop||foot-width||5 inches|
- The neck rail forward location is a horizontal measurement from the alley curb. It may be 68 inches for Lactation 1 heifers or 70 inches for mature cows.
- The top pipe of a loop becomes the neck rail when cows lunge
through the loop opening.
- Proper location of the neck rail lets a cow stand straight with all four feet in the stall and rise without contacting the rail and contributes to stall cleanliness.
- The location is lower and forward of the withers.
- The neck rail is usually directly above or an inch or two to the cow side of the brisket locator.
- Perching, diagonal standing, or neck injuries may indicate incorrect placement of the neck rail.
- Sole ulcers and lameness occur when neck rails force cows to stand with their front feet on the bed and back feet in the alley (perching in the stall).
- Contact with the neck rail while rising causes injury, pain, fear, frustration and stress and alters stall usage.
- nylon strap located aft of a neck rail (Figure 7) increases the frequency of perching.
- The distance between neck rails in head-to-head open-front stalls should be equal to or greater than the length from tail to withers of a cow. That is, a cow should be able to stand in the open space. This is possible in 18-foot head-to-head stalls but not 16- or 17-foot platforms.
- A neck strap has been used in combination with a brisket rail. Upward flexibility of the nylon strap spares cows from injury. A brisket rail prevents cows from crawling forward. (Figure 8)
Figure 6. A neck rail placed 50 inches above the mattress and 70 inches forward of the curb allows this cow to stand straight in the stall with four feet on the bed.
Figure 7. The region of the supraspinous bursa of the neck can experience repetitive trauma from a neck rail or strap when a cow stands in a stall, during the motions to lie and during the motions to rise.
7. Forward or Diagonal Lunge
- A mature Holstein uses about 10 feet of space measured from her tail to the most forward lunge distance when rising or lying normally.
- Obstructions in the lunging space (e.g., a facing cow in short
stalls, wall, heap of bedding, concrete curb, post, gate, transverse
mounting pipe) lead to diagonal (e.g., corner-to-corner) standing,
lying and rising.
- Provide unobstructed forward space for frontward lunging and bobbing of the head.
- Stalls facing a wall or forward obstruction should be 10 feet from alley curb to the wall.
- Platforms for head-to-head stalls should be 18 feet. A cow can use space on the opposite side of centre. Resting nose-to-tail length is 8 to 8.5 feet.
- For side lunging, choose a divider with an opening wide enough
to permit easy lunging for rising or lying. (see below)
- The bottom pipe of the loop must not inhibit the ability to lunge over it. (about 12 inches from the top of the mattress)
Figure 8. To prevent injuries, the producer moved the neck rail to the bottom pipe of the loop to make a brisket rail and installed a nylon neck strap at the location of the former neck rail.
8. Loops and Stall Width
- Loops define the width of the stall space for each cow.
- With 10 resting and 10 rising motions per day, cows benefit from greater ease when getting in and out of their stalls. Choose the right loop for the job.
- Obstructions to forward-lunging force cows to side- lunge through
- Loops designed for side-lunging have a wider opening between the top and bottom pipe. The top pipe becomes the neck rail and the bottom pipe must not obstruct lunging.
- Loops and narrow stalls designed to force cows to lay straight in the beds may contribute to injuries.
- Use imprint width to determine minimum stall width (about two times hook-bone width).
- Minimum width prevents wide resting positions.
- Wider stalls compensate for challenges in short stalls.
- Mount dividers on 50-inch centres for average-sized mature Holstein cows. (e.g., gives 48 inches of space)
- In practice, loops are being mounted on 50- to 54-inch centres to provide 48 to 52 inches of space, depending upon cow size or special needs.
- A loop that restricts the space at the back of the platform to 12 to 14 inches discourages cows from walking along the back of the stall.
- A loop with the bottom pipe high enough above the bed will entrap hips and cows. (Figure 11)
- The height of the bottom attachment pipe above the bed should be about 12 inches for easier side- lunging.
- Mount each loop or pair of loops to a support post or floor mount.
- Transverse mounting pipes for the lower ends of a loop may interfere with lunging and be a hazard.
- Transverse mounting pipes for the upper ends of loops may be a hazard in some but not all installations.
- Side-lunging loops are useful for renovating older barns with short stalls.
- The loop shown in Figure 24 has the lower pipe extended further to the rear of the stall before the pipe bends upward. The loops are supposed to force cows to lie straight in the stall. However, they are very shiny from cow contact and cows may get bruises from this style of loop.
- For a contrast, the loops shown in Figure 9 are bent differently. The lower pipe extends less to the rear of the stall before bending upward. This design provides ample space for the hips (24 to 27 inches) but prevents her from rolling under the loop.
- The downward slope of the top pipe of loops shown in Figure
9 allows cows to swing their
heads over easily when exiting the stalls. They can do this with their front feet still on the bed. However, the loops shown in Figure 20 do not have that feature and cows must back out of the stall before turning.
9. End Stalls
- An end stall must provide space for backing around with the rump, swinging the head for turning out of the stall, and resting postures. Otherwise, it becomes a one-way stall that cows do not like. Concrete curbs or walls in end stalls are hazards for injuries to hook bones.
- Concrete curbs restrict normal leg postures and some cows avoid
- Place water troughs on the outside wall or centre of a crossover rather than against the end stall. (e.g., to ease cow traffic flow through the crossover and to avoid wet beds)
- Use a stall divider (loop) for the end partition.
- Use a section of brisket locator or plastic pipe as an end curb.
Figure 9. A wide loop opening and open-front stalls allow cows to lunge both diagonally and frontward. While rising, this cow did not contact the neck rail and she took the stride over the low brisket locator.
Figure 10 shows loops that are a challenge for cows housed in side-lunging stalls. The lower pipe of the loop is 18 inches above the bed. It is too high for easy side-lunging motions. A gate obstructs forward lunging in the first few stalls.
Figure 11 shows the same loops as in Figure 10 but installed in a new barn. In this installation, cows have space for forward lunging. The back part of the loop is too high and cows have been trapped under it.
- Bed length in mattress stalls is the distance from the alley curb to the brisket locator.
- Use imprint length of the resting cow as a guide for determining bed length (1.2 times rump height).
- Bed length should allow cows to rest parallel to the dividers
in the short position with tail and legs on the bed.
- Consider a 70-inch bed for Lactation 1 heifers that have a rump height of 58 to 59 inches.
- Consider a 72-inch bed for mature Holstein cows measuring 60 inches at the rump.
- Bed length ranges from 68 to 72 inches.
- The minimum bed length allows cows to lie straight with their forelegs extended over a 4-inch high brisket locator.
- High brisket locators or short beds force cows to lie diagonally or with their rumps over the gutter to attain the fore-legs forward resting posture.
- Stalls are seldom built with longer beds because they pose challenges with stall and cow cleanliness and the risk of mastitis.
- Build a slope of two to three percent into the concrete platform
(higher at the front) (e.g., about 1.5 to 2.0 inches in a 72 inch
- Too much slope may contribute to claw disease. (See also item #6 about neck rails & perching)
11. Stall Length and Height
- Stall length from alley curb to a solid front is 10 feet for normal rising and resting motions.
- Stall length for open front head-to-head stalls is 18 feet for normal rising and resting motions.
- Stall height is the difference in elevation between the alley
and the stall platform.
- Stall height affects cow safety or comfort.
- Build the stall platform about 6 inches higher than the alley
for barns with alley scrapers.
- Consider difficulty of entry or exit with high (10- 12-inch) platforms.
- Consider ease of doing reproductive examinations and artificial insemination - ergonomics for technicians and veterinarians.
- Tractor scraping and once-a-day cleaning often lead to building the stall platform higher than what is comfortable for a cow.
- The width of the alley, stocking density and frequency of scraping affect the depth of slurry in the alley.
- Adequate stall dimensions are important for fresh cow health and milk production.
Figure 12 shows the bed and lunge space in head-to-head free- stalls with an 18-foot platform.
Figure 13 shows the bed and lunge space in wall-facing freestalls with a 9.5-foot platform. A 10-foot platform is ideal.
Figure 14. A cow resting with her front leg extended over a brisket locator mounted to the platform. A deterrent board discourages cows from exiting forward from the stalls or entering from the alley.
12. Brisket Locator
- A brisket locator restricts the forward location of a cow lying in the stall.
- It defines the forward limit of the bed length measured from
the rear curb.
- Cows prefer stalls without brisket locators and spend less time lying in stalls with brisket locators.
- However, brisket locators may contribute to cleaner beds and cows and reduced risk of mastitis.
- The challenge is to design, select and install a brisket locator that meets the needs of the cow for comfort and the owner for stall cleanliness. Several design features may be useful for selecting a brisket locator.
- Design principles for brisket locators
- Permit the normal behaviours (stride when rising, legs extended when resting), greater hours of resting and restfulness and not restlessness in the stalls
- Assure a safe resting place, free of hazards that entrap legs or challenge rising motions
- Enhance stall cleanliness by positioning the cow's forward location relative to the alley curb
- Strong and durable to provide years of service
- Justification for design features
- Height should be about 4 inches above the mat or mattress and
width about the same.
- A cow's foot will clear about 4 inches when taking the normal rising stride (forward step).
- Brisket locators higher and wider than 4 inches (for mature Holsteins) interfere with the stride, contribute to cows stumbling or falling forward, and interfere with the forward resting position of front legs.
- Cows rest diagonally in the stall when high brisket boards interfere with normal resting postures.
- Unwanted outcomes include diagonal resting, manure and urine on the beds, pressure sores on spines,
- Restlessness and hock sores, or reduced hours of resting.
- Locators mounted to the platform allow cows to stretch their
forelegs under the loop.
- Brackets on the loop restrict resting postures.
- **Space between the brisket locator and bottom pipe of the loop should be no less than 5 inches to allow for the legs forward resting posture and prevent entrapment of a leg.
- Forward location may be, for Holsteins, 68, 70 or 72 inches.
- Measure from the alley curb to the cow-side face of the brisket locator
- Allows all body parts (including the tail) to rest on the bed
- Provides the bed length needed to rest parallel to the loops
Figure 15. While rising, a cow can take a normal stride easily over a 4-inch high brisket locator. A space of 5 inches between the top of the brisket locator and the bottom pipe of the loop and no bracket are essential design features to avoid entrapment of a leg. A cow-friendly brisket locator has a smoothedsurface and attaches to the stall surface, not the loops.
- Shape should be contoured and have a smooth surface.
- Provides comfort or safety when cows extend and retract their legs over the locator
- Area in front of the locator is important for resting or rising.
- Height similar to the stall platform
- Provides a safe and comfortable surface for the foot during the rising stride
- Provides a comfortable space for legs when extended while resting
- Provides excellent traction (not slippery)
- Assures ease of rising
- Minimizes risks of stumbling or falling
- Consider merits or challenges of wooden boards, concrete curbs, nylon straps, metal or poly pipes, or plastic curbs as safe and comfortable brisket locators.
- Some are excellent choices while others provide hazards and challenges.
- A 6-inch sewer pipe may not be a suitable brisket locator.
- A 3-4-inch sewer pipe may be a suitable brisket locator when mounted to the platform.
- Choose a smaller size for heifer stalls
Figure 16. Unique brackets mount a plastic pipe to the floor. This installation meets the requirements for a safe brisket locator.
13. Area Forward of the Brisket Locator
Objects in the space forward of the brisket locator are obstructions to the head lunge and bob, the stride and resting positions for the front legs. This area may contain some bedding and be slightly higher than the stall bed.
- The use of one support structure (e.g., post or floor mount) for the loop in single stalls or pairs of loops in head-to-head stalls keeps the area unobstructed.
- Roof-support posts located between loops may force cows to stand and lie diagonally in the stalls.
Figure 17. The area forward of the brisket locator must be free of obstructions to lunging, bobbing of the head and the stride when rising.
14. Deterrent Strap or Pipe - Open-Front Stalls
- Open-front stalls provide cows with a convenient route for escaping
a dominant cow, a cow in heat, equipment used to bed stalls or
an aversive handler.
- A deterrent bar or rope discourages cows from exiting through the front of stalls. (Figure 18-20)
- The deterrent must not interfere with the upward bob of the head. If it does, expect unwanted behaviours and stall refusal.
- Deterrent height above the bed (e.g., 34-40 inches) varies with stall length and location of the mounting post.
- A temporary installation and observation will help you to determine the best location.
- The usual mounting point is the support post for the loops.
- Deterrents may be wood, metal, or poly rope.
- In general, tie-down straps used in the trucking industry are a hazard and should be avoided. When ratcheted tight, the straps can cut a cow's hide if she becomes trapped by them.
- Several management practices reduce the risk of cows trying
to escape through stall fronts.
- Moving cows in estrus to a 'play pen' and choosing AI rather than 'running a bull' protects cows from pestering.
- Gentle handling must be the standard of care.
- Veterinarians and farmers successfully conduct reproductive examinations in open-front stalls without deterrent bars. A credit to gentle stockmanship.
- A brisket rail may act as a deterrent to prevent cows from crawling forward prior to rising. (Figure 8)
Figure 18. A deterrent bar or strap must not interfere with the upward bobbing of the head. A suggested placement is about 40- 42 inches for Holsteins in 16-foot stalls and about 34-36 inches in 18-foot stalls. The height varies with stall length.
15. Sand-Bedded Stalls
- Sand bedding provides unique challenges for maintaining stall dimensions.
- Ideally, a sand bed should be slightly sloped and filled to
- Neck-rail height changes with the height of sand stored at the front of the stall.
- The effective bed length for sand-bedded stalls is the distance from the inside of the rear curb to the brisket locator when the sand is below the level of the curb.
- Lame cows rise and go down easily in sand-bedded stalls but have difficulty in stalls with firmer beds.
Figure 19. A deterrent bar prevents cows from exiting the feed alley into the fronts of these free stalls. It also prevents cows from exiting forward into the feed alley. The mounting posts are about 8 feet from the rear curb. The deterrent is mounted high enough (about 34-40 inches above the mattress) so it does not interfere with forward lunge and head bobbing motions.
Figure 20. The space between an outside wall and the mounting posts for loops is a trap for cows housed in open- front stalls. This forward space is essential for front lunging. A deterrent is essential for the cow safety. The photograph shows a pipe deterrent, probably the best choice for this application.
- The rear curb is the fixed reference point for vertical measurements to locate neck rails.
- A brisket locator can be mounted in a sand- bedded free stall.
- The neck rail in most sand stalls is placed the width of the rear curb closer to the back of the stall than it is for mattress stalls. This neck rail location forces cows to perch in the stall rather than stand with their rear feet in the sand bed or on the concrete curb. This neck rail location aims to prevent cows from urinating or defecating in the sand bed.
- Nonetheless, sand is the bedding of choice for prevention of injuries.
Figure 21. The brisket locator in these sand-bedded stalls was made with plastic pipe filled with concrete for weight. The producer drilled holes through the pipe and green concrete for insertion of rebar into the stall base.
Figure 22. The soft resting surface of sand-bedded stalls includes the space between the inside of the concrete curb and the brisket locator if one is installed.
Figure 23. The loop for this sand-bedded stall slopes downward at the curb side so cows can swing their heads over it more easily when exiting the stall. It has a narrow opening and it is mounted higher above the bed than loops for mattress barns (see Figure 8).
The loop controls cow position and generally forces forward lunging. The bottom pipe is high enough to discourage cows from lunging through it, yet low enough to discourage cows from lunging under it.
Figure 24. Sand stored in stall fronts is an obstruction to lying, rising and resting behaviours. The cows in the adjacent photo spent considerable time standing and perching for a few days after the once-monthly addition of sand.
16. Stall Base and Bedding
- Concrete platforms require a cushion for a resting surface.
- An optimal stall surface provides thermal insulation, softness,
traction, low risk of abrasion and ease of cleaning.
- Common stall bases include rubber-filled or gel- filled mattresses, foam mats with rubber top covers, mats of various compositions, water beds, combination of rubber-filled mattress and sand, sand, compost, deep-bedded organic materials(e.g., straw, sawdust, peat moss, manure solids).
- Mattresses or mats have a limited life expectancy for softness and require replacement after a few years in service.
- Ample bedding is a best management practice in the Code of Practice
for Dairy Cattle.
- Bedding provides cushioning and absorbency and reduces friction.
- Chopped straw, kiln-dried sawdust, kiln-dried softwood shavings, compost (manure solids), and peat moss are common bedding materials.
- Absorbency (dryness) and traction are important.
- Hardwood shavings or wood chips are unacceptable bedding materials.
- Solid rubber mats require a very generous (e.g., >3 inches) cover with bedding.
- Some 'soft' mats allow a 'basin' to form that collects urine and milk. This results in wet teats, udders and flanks and a hazard for mastitis. More slope on the platform may not succeed in getting better drainage from these beds.
- Some mats or top covers are slippery and become more slippery with straw and moisture.
Figure 25. Recent research from the University of British Columbia (Drissler and others) showed that sand level is important for lying time. As sand level dropped below the curb, cows spent less time lying in the stalls. Lying times decreased by 10 minutes for every 1-cm (0.4 inches) decrease in bedding level below the curb.
17. Bedding - Manure System & Lame Cows
- Choice of manure system, commitment to stall maintenance and the ready availability of inexpensive bedding determine our choices in stall design.
- A once-per-day stall cleaning protocol may not be compatible with generous stall dimensions.
- British Columbia research showed that stall usage is greatest with a 50-inch-wide stall compared to a 42- inch stall. However, stall soiling with manure increased about two-fold with the wider stalls. In another study, they found that stalls with little use stayed clean and stalls with the greatest occupancy were dirtiest. Although more acceptable to cows, the wider stalls require more daily maintenance, just as more usage of a tractor requires more frequent oil changes. Dirtiness should not be the sole measure of stall design.
- Cook et al at the University of Wisconsin showed that lame cows
spend more time standing or perching.
- Lame cows in sand-bedded barns showed normal patterns of lying and standing. Lame cows in rubber- filled-mattress-bedded barns spent more time standing and less lying. Traction may be an important factor. Cook suggests that lame cows on mattresses experience more pain and fear. Traction afforded by loose bedding is a great advantage to lame cows. Loose bedding distributes weight bearing to the entire claw and is less painful than that experienced in mattress barns with scant loose bedding.
Figure 26. Tucker and others (Univ. British Columbia) showed lying time and perching time for rubber-filled mattresses with 0, 1, and 7.5 kg of sawdust bedding. The two lowest levels of bedding represent common practice in mattress-bedded barns. Lying time increased and perching time decreased with the addition of bedding to the mattresses.
18. Stocking Density and Social Turmoil
- Stocking density refers to the proportion of cows to the number of stalls, the number of cows per square foot of bedded pack area, the inches of feed bunk space per cow, or the proportion of cows to the number of self-locks at a feed bunk.
- Some advisors recommend overstocking for economic reasons.
- Stall stocking densities >100% alter cow behaviour.
- Overstocking stalls increases standing time in alleys, reduces lying time, and increases the risk of claw lesions.
- Overstocking a feed bunk (e.g., < 30-inches per cow) increases the risk for ketosis and low early lactation production.
- Overstocking a pen or barn challenges cows, ventilation systems, manure handling and management.
- Social turmoil refers to distress amongst cows as they establish dominance patterns. Turmoil may last for 2 to 4 days after introduction of a cow or cows into an established group of cows. Weekly introductions (e.g., on Thursday) into a dry cow pen may produce two days of turmoil and five days of calm. Daily introductions into a calving pen may result in constant turmoil in the group.
- Social turmoil has an adverse effect on cow behaviour and performance.
Figure 27. Fregonesi and others at the University of British Columbia found that lying in the stall decreased and standing in the stall increased as stocking density increased from 100 to 150%. Other researchers found lameness was more common with greater standing times.
19. Bunk Space
- Bunk space describes the linear inches of feed bunk per cow
in a pen.
- Provide 30 inches of bunk space per cow in fresh cow and close-up cow pens.
- Cow displacements at the feed bunk are more common when bunk space is less than 30 inches.
- Lack of bunk space increases the risk for fresh cow ketosis.
- Feeding time decreases as stocking density increases.
- Subordinate cows reduce feeding activity when bunk space is reduced.
- Dry matter intake decreases when all cows cannot eat at the same time.
- Cows do not voluntarily fill more than 80% of 24-inch headlocks.
- Overstocking at the feed bunk has an adverse effect on milk production in early lactation.
- Avoid overstocking at the feed bunk to increase feeding activity
and reduce competition.
- Conventional building techniques result in 24 inches of bunk space per cow in 2-row barns and about 18 inches in 3-row barns.
20. Feed Bunk Restraint
- Feed bunk restraints prevent cows from escaping from their pens into the feed alley.
- Post-and-rail (pipe), cable, slant bar and headlocks are common restraints.
- Post-and-rail and cable restraints are risk factors for neck injuries when the skin, the nuchal ligament and its bursae and the supraspinous processes of the first few thoracic vertebrae at the withers experience repetitive trauma. The injuries may be hair loss, gall, callus, hygroma or bursitis.
- Similar injuries occur when the top rail is too low on slant bar or headlock restraints.
Figure 28. The hairless bump is a hygroma located at the point of the withers. It is the result of repetitive pressure against a feed rail restraint.
- Post-and-rail restraints have a rail (pipe) attached either
directly to a post or on a mount to locate the rail forward of
the post and over the manger. (Figures 29, 31 &32)
- Pipes mounted on a pivot are a variant of the post-and-rail restraint. With this device, the larger cows in the group raise the restraint and spare smaller cows the burden. Cost may be greater than a single rail and there may be no cow comfort or practical advantage.
- Rail height may be adjustable and should be raised or lowered to suit cow size in various pens.
- A mount may offset the rail about 6, 8 or 10 inches over the feed bunk.
- Regardless of height, a rail or cable may blemish or injure necks.
- Feed rail height and the frequency of pushing feed up contribute to freedom from neck injuries.
- In barns where feed is not pushed up often, cows sustain injuries to the supraspinous processes, especially with a higher rail.
- Elevated feed alleys keep feed close to cows, reduce the risk of neck injuries, or decrease labour.
- Displacements by boss cows are more common with post-and-rail or cable restraints.
- The feed alley must be wide enough to permit passage of feed wagons without damage to the rail. Measure the TMR wagon to be sure.
- Slant bar and headlock restraints are alternatives to consider.
- For most Holsteins, the manger wall should be 18 to 20 inches higher than the walk alley (cow's feet) to avoid injury to briskets. This height also permits the addition of self-locks later.
- Cows may be tipped into or fall into a manger. Therefore, mangers should not have a front or barrier in barns with post-and-rail restraints.
Figure 29. The top photograph shows the location of a restraint rail at about 48 inches above the cow alley. Note the rail contacts the cows' necks in the area of the supraspinous processes. Experience has shown that the rail is too high and leads to injury at this delicate location on the neck. The lower photograph shows the rail lowered to about 40 inches. Note the rail contacts the neck about midway between the poll and the supraspinous processes. This location may result in hair loss but not hygroma or bursitis. At the farm in the photos, there was no change in feed intake after lowering the rail.
- Slant bar restraints have a top and bottom rail with slanted bars on 12- to 14-inch centres for mature cows. (Figure 30)
- Self-locking headlocks prevent cows from escaping their pens into the feed alley and restrain groups of cows on days when examinations are necessary. (Figure 34)
- For headlocks and slant bar restraints,
- the top bar must be located higher than the withers height of the tallest cow to avoid neck injuries;
- the restraints are built in panels, rest on the top of the manger curb, and are fixed to mounting posts;
- the top of the panel may be offset over the manger by 6 to 8 inches; (15-20 degrees) and
- The height of the concrete curb plus the bottom bar of the panel should be 20 inches. Allow for the thickness of the bottom bar when building the concrete curb.
- Headlocks and slant bar restraints minimize bullying, displacements at the bunk, wastage of feed, or injuries to necks.
- Headlocks are handling facilities for those who do not build palpation rails.
- Since most headlocks are built on 24-inch centres, they do not provide the recommended 30 inches of bunk space per cow.
- Feed stalls have loops that separate each cow's feeding space. The stall may have an elevated platform that will require manual cleaning. The loops discourage displacement by boss cows. (Figure 31)
Figure 30. Properly constructed slant bar restraint has a top horizontal bar higher than a cow's back and reduces the chance of neck injuries. A feed-front manger keeps feed within cow reach. Feeding management limits wastage and labour for cleaning is less than 4 minutes per day.
Figure 31. Feed stalls have loops that separate cows at the bunk and they reduce displacements by boss cows.
21. Manger (feed table) and Feed Trough
- A manger curb keeps manure out of feed and feed out of the cow
- Measure the curb height from the floor in the cow alley. Manger curb height should be less than the floor to brisket height of the smallest cow in the pen to reduce the chance of brisket injuries.
- Build the curb height 20 inches for post-and-rail restraints or 18 inches for slant bars or headlocks.
- Curb height will be 14 or 16 inches on the feed table side
- The width of the feed table or bottom of a trough should be about 28 inches to keep feed within reach.
- The feed table or trough is 4 to 6 inches higher than the cow's feet.
- Build a concrete curb 6 inches wide to support posts.
- Bevel, smooth or round the curb edges on the cow and manger sides.
- Feed table height is chosen to minimize pressure on the soles of claws, maximize foot health and make eating more comfortable for cows.
- Choose an acid-resistant and relatively smooth surface.
- Ceramic tile, plastic or special concrete are common surfaces. Each provides benefits, challenges or hazards for consideration.
- Slippery surfaces are a hazard for workers.
- Sweep-in mangers allow simplicity of construction and ease of cleaning.
- Sweep-in mangers have the same elevation as the drive alley
for delivering feed.
- With sweep-in mangers, cows push feed out of their reach while sorting and eating.
- The intensity of the labour for pushing up feed varies with the technology (e.g., brooms, snow shovels, ATVs or garden tractors with blades or brushes, skid steers or tractors) and the intensity of management.
- Automated (robotic) feed pushers are available.
Figure 32. The feed in this sweep-in manger is outside the reach of the cows. Although push up and cleaning are easy tasks, the feeding system requires labour to keep the feed close to the cows. The feed rail is low enough to prevent escapes. However, with constant reaching for feed because of infrequent feed push up, these cows are at greater risk of neck injuries.
- A feed trough may keep feed closer to cows, lessen stresses
related to reaching for feed, minimize injuries to necks, or reduce
labour for pushing up feed.
- The height of the front of a feed trough may be determined by the clearance needed for the discharge chute for the feeding wagon (TMR mixer).
- An elevated feed alley acts as a feed barrier.
- A feed front may be constructed of concrete, plastic or wood for retrofitting sweep-in mangers.
- A recent innovation from an Ontario producer is a barrier that may be raised to clean the feed table and lowered to keep feed close to cows. See Figure 34.
Figure 34. The unique feed barrier keeps feed close to cows and raises for feeding and sweeping.
Figure 33. The elevated drive alley is about 6 inches higher than the feed table (manger) and the feed table is 4 inches higher than the cow's feet. This feed trough helps to keep feed within easier reach of cows and reduces labour for pushing up feed.
22. Steps & Elevations
- Steps are hazards for claw-horn disruption.
- Connective tissue that fixes the pedal bone to the claw relaxes
at calving time and retightens within a
few weeks. The pedal bone has greater mobility within the claw and there is greater opportunity for bruising of the sole and formation of sole ulcers.
- Unlace your boots and walk the barn to get an understanding
of what is happening in the claw. The ideal barn would have only
one step - from the walk alleys into the bed.
- Tractor-scraped or slatted floor barns may have no steps at crossover alleys.
- Alley scrapers require a curb to run along.
- Crossover alleys may be lower in elevation (e.g., 3 inches) than the stall platform (e.g., 6 inches) relative to the floor.
- Sharp turns in return alleys or parlor exits are hazards for claw-horn disruption in fresh cows.
- Provide enough space for cows to turn in an arc while taking steps. Avoid narrow spaces where they must pivot on a back foot.
- Eliminate unnecessary steps into and out of pens, at crossovers, or into milking parlors when designing or building free-stall barns.
- Barn drawings should show elevations and these should be considered carefully for cow comfort and health.
- Biosecurity is about ways to prevent the spread of diseases within the barn or on the farm.
- Diseases of concern are spread in manure.
- Consider the movement of air, manure, feed, cattle, equipment and people outside and within the barn.
- Design the barn to segregate manure from feed.
- Consider traffic routes for people and cows, for feeding and bedding equipment, for moving manure, for delivering feed, and for service providers and visitors.
- Manure storage should be distant and down wind from the barn.
- Calving pens should not be adjacent to the parlor holding pen.
- Outside the barn, lanes for moving feed should not cross routes used for hauling manure.
- Inside the barn, consider designs without intersections for
both cows and equipment. o In the design of 2- and 3-row barns,
tractors and TMR mixers or feed pushers do not have to cross cow
alleys and cows do not have to cross the feed alley.
- A feed bunk filled by an overhead conveyor has no cow traffic through it.
- A feed-wall with outside feeding keeps feeding equipment outside the barn. With this design, there is no cow traffic across the feeding table.
- Perimeter feed alleys for 4- or 6-row barns keep feeding equipment out of cow alleys and cows out of feed alleys.
Figure 35. A step at the holding pen is a hazard for cows. Check plans for elevations and monitor construction to be sure this does not happen by error or oversight.
- A barrier on the feed table keeps feeding equipment out of the feed.
- Many barn designs have traffic intersections where workers' mucky boots or cows cross feed alleys.
- Sanitation strategies help to prevent manure contamination of
boots, tires and feed.
- A lift bridge allows cows to cross a feed alley without contaminating it with manure and urine.
- A lift bridge allows feeding equipment to cross a cow alley without getting manure on tires.
Figure 36. A lift bridge keeps tractor and TMR mixer tires out of manure in the cow alley. When raised, cows do not contaminate the feed alley. This Finnish example is hydraulically operated.
- A foot bridge allows people to cross cow alleys without contaminating their boots.
- Water outlets and hoses at strategic locations allow workers to wash their boots when exiting cow alleys and before entering feed alleys.
- Slopes and washing equipment allow cleaning of intersections at feed alleys.
- A curb on the end of the feed table keeps feed out of the feed-alley intersection.
- Guide visitors along clean routes, not cow alleys.
Figure 37. A footbridge keeps boots clean when crossing cow alleys. This bridge mounts on a gate and allows an alley scraper to pass beneath it.
Figure 38. In Finland, Jouni Pitkäranta designs barns with a feed- wall for feeding from the outside. The translucent-panelled feed wall opens and closes with a remote control. In summer, the panels open horizontally for full ventilation. Tractors and TMR mixers do not enter the barn. The newest version uses curtain to replace the translucent panel.
Figure 39. The red water hose and blue spray nozzle are visible reminders to workers to wash their boots before exiting the pens and entering the feed alley. The location is adjacent to a person pass at the feed bunk
Figure 40. A post and rail feed barrier must be constructed for the dimensions of the cows eating at the bunk. For most Holsteins, the manger wall should be about 20 inches higher than the walk alley (cow's feet) to avoid injury to briskets.This height also permits the addition of self-locks later. Newer designs permit vertical and horizontal adjustment of the rail as shown in some photographs above. The feed manger platform must be 4 to 6 inches higher than the walk alley (cow's feet). (Figure courtesy of H. House, OMAFRA)
Figure 41. The diagram shows a typical installation for a self- locking front at a feed bunk. Note that the concrete manger front is lower than the one for the post and rail feed manger. The height of the concrete manger wall should be adjusted for the size of the cattle to avoid injuries to briskets. The top rail must be higher than the shoulder height of the tallest cow in the group. Some mature Holstein cows measure greater than 63 inches tall. (Figure courtesy of H. House, OMAFRA)
Figure 42. The diagram shows open-front free stalls with rubber- filled mattresses. The table shows variations in stall dimensions to meet the needs of Holsteins - first-lactation heifers, mature milking cows and dry cows. The slope on the stall is 0.25 inches per foot. For ease of side-lunging, the top of the lower pipe of the loop should be no higher than 12 inches above the bed height (mattress). The neck rail forward position should allow the majority of cows to stand squarely with all four feet in the stall. Generally, the neck rail mounts directly above or two inches behind the brisket locator. (Figure courtesy of H. House, OMAFRA)
Figure 43. The Figure shows dimensions for a sand-bedded, free- stall design using a wide-loop divider. It shows dimensions suggested for first lactation cows, mature cows and mature pre-fresh cows. The forward location of the neck rail is the bed length minus the width of the concrete curb. Since cows will not stand on the slope of the curb, they stand diagonal ahead of the curb if stall length allows. The rearward location of the neck rail discourages cows from standing with all four feet in the bed and excessive soiling of the stall. In effect, the rearward location forces cows to perch in the stalls. However, with lower sand levels, the degree of elevation of front feet may be minimal. The height of the neck rail will vary with sand fill and should be at least 44 inches above the sand. (Courtesy of Drs. Cook and Nordlund, Univ. of Wisconsin, Vet Clin Food Anim 20 (2004).)
Figure 44. The diagram shows a design for head-to-head, open- front, free stalls with sand bedding. The table shows variations in stall dimensions to meet the needs of first-lactation heifers, mature milking cows and dry cows. The figure also shows a narrow-opening style of loop and no brisket locator. The loop has a narrow opening and the bottom pipe mounts higher above the bed than wide-opening style loops for mattress barns. The loop controls cow position and generally forces forward lunging. The bottom pipe is high enough to discourage cows from lunging through it, yet low enough to discourage cows from lunging under it. (Figure courtesy of H. House, OMAFRA)
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