Dairy Cow Comfort Tie-stall Dimensions

OMAFRA recommends alternative designs to tie-stalls for new construction. Producers should exercise caution when considering the construction of a new tie-stall barn. We continue to recommend using available information and best practices to improve cow comfort and efficiencies within existing tie-stall barns. However, given the depreciation period and lifespan of a new barn, consider investigating alternative housing systems for long-term viability.

  1. Concepts
  2. Cow Dimensions
  3. Space Requirements
  4. Stall Dimensions as Ratios of Body Dimensions
  5. Tie Rail (Head Rail) Location
  6. Tie Chain - Length & Safety
  7. Wide Opening - Forward or Diagonal Lunge
  8. Manger Curb
  9. Manger Height & Surface
  10. Water Bowls
  11. Platform - Length & Slope
  12. Stall Bed or Cushion
  13. Loops or Dividers & Stall Width
  14. End stalls
  15. Stall height
  16. Gutter & Walk Alley
  17. Electric Cow Trainers
  18. Reading List & Dimensions at a Glance
  19. Diagram - Tie-stall Dimensions

1. Concepts

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 milking. This document describes cow dimensions, space requirements and tie-stall dimensions for modern Canadian Holstein cows. The concepts shown in Table 1 and Table 2 may be used to design stalls for Holstein heifers or other dairy breeds.

2. 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.
  • 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 a sample of 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 choosing tie-stall sizes.

Figure 1 shows the rear view of two Holstein cows standing in free stalls in a dairy barn. The cow on the left is shorter in height than the cow on the right and the stalls are identical in dimensions. It illustrates the variation of cow size within a herd.

Figure 1. Variation in cow size within and between herds highlights the need to measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.

Figure 2 shows a left-facing side view of a Holstein cow standing outside in a pasture field. Several lines and measurements are overlaid on the photo to illustrate body dimensions that are useful for designing free stalls. Example measurements include nose-to-tail - 104 inches, withers and rump height - 60 inches, brisket-to-tail - 70 plus inches; stance (distance between front and back feet) 60 inches, and chest (distance between brisket and top line) - 33 inches.

Figure 2. Several cow measurements taken on standing cows are useful for designing stalls. Other essential measurements are imprint length and imprint width.

Table 1 shows measurements of mature Canadian Holsteins at a local dairy herd and some calculated proportions. For example, mature 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. Their weight exceeded 1,550 pounds.

Table 1. Body dimensions, example measurements for mature Holsteins,

and estimated ratios to rump height and hook-bone width.

Body Dimension Inches Proportions
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) -

3. Space Requirements

  • A 1350 lb cow uses 118 inches longitudinal space and 43 inches lateral space when lying. (UBC 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 (16 to 24) inches of forward space for lunging motions. Figures 2 & 3 show several cow dimensions that define this living space.

Figure 3 shows a left-facing side view of a Holstein cow lying in a pasture.  A grid of squares has been overlain with the vertical axis on the right side numbered 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 (from bottom to top) and the scale for the horizontal axis starting on the right side and ranging from 10 to 90 in increments of 10. A blue arrow points to the cows folded fore knee and another points to the tail head. The image describes imprint length and the distance from the folded fore knee to the trailhead is about 70 inches. This would be the bed length for a stall.

Figure 3. Imprint length extends from the folded foreknee to the tail (arrows). This length defines the bed length.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • When resting in the narrow position, the point of the hock on the upper hind leg and the extension of the abdomen on the opposite side define the imprint width. This width is the minimum stall width for a resting cow. However, for improved comfort, most new tie-stall barns are being built with stalls wider than the imprint width of a cow in the narrow resting position.

Figure 4 shows a rear view of a Holstein cow lying in an upright position on her right side while on pasture.  A grid of squares has been overlain with the numbers 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 listed along the horizontal axis from right to left.  From the image, the cow appears to occupy a space about 52 inches wide and this is called her imprint width.

Figure 4. For the rear view of the cow in the photo, imprint width extends 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 shows a left-facing side view of a Holstein cow lying in an upright position in a pasture. A grid is overlain on the photo. White lines have been drawn above and forward of the resting cow to show the forward, downward and vertical space the cow will occupy while rising.

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.

  • 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 lunging space is needed to properly size the opening at the front of tie stalls, position tie rails, choose the shape and dimensions of stall dividers and avoid hazards when turning out of stalls.
  • A cow's nose uses the space 4 - 12 inches above the surface when lying or rising.

4. 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 cow 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.
  • Figure 18, at the end of this document, shows a tie-rail stall and example dimensions.
  • Measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.

Table 2. Stall dimensions, estimated relationships to body dimensions and example calculations for mature Holsteins in a study herd.

Stall Dimension Ratio and Reference
Body Dimension
An Example
a median cow
Bed length = imprint length 1.2 x rump height 1.2 x 60 = 72 in.
Tie rail height above cow's feet 0.80 x rump height 0.80 x 60 = 48 in.
*Stall width =imprint width + 2.0 x hook-bone width 2 x 26 = 52 in.

* Producers are building most new tie stalls wider than this minimum width. They mount loops on 54 inch centres to provide 50 inches of width.

5. Tie Rail (Head Rail) Location

  • A tie rail (sometimes called a head rail) is the pipe used as the attachment for the tie chain.
  • A tie rail controls the forward location of a cow while she stands in the stall.
  • The standing surface (e.g., mat, mattress) is the reference for vertical placement of the tie rail.
  • The vertical location above the bed may be about 0.8 x rump height.
  • In practice, the tie rail may be mounted 44 to 48 inches higher than the top surface of the bed.
  • The tie rail forward location is a horizontal measurement from the gutter curb.
  • The tie rail mounts 8 to 12 inches forward of the centre of the manger curb and over the manger.
  • A tie rail placed 86 inches horizontally forward of the gutter curb allows cows with about 58 to 60- inch rump height to stand straight in the stall.
  • Proper location of the tie rail lets a cow stand parallel to the dividers with all four feet in the stall and rise or lie with minimal or no contact with it.
  • Measure vertical placement from the concrete platform during construction and allow for the bed.
  • Standing in the gutter, diagonal standing or neck injuries are obvious signs of incorrect placement or obstructions at the front of the stall.
  • Injuries to the sensitive supraspinous processes of the neck may occur with tie rails located higher than 48-50 inches and when cows reach for feed.
  • Injuries to supraspinous processes may be avoided by mounting the tie rail lower and keeping feed within reach.
  • The distance between the manger curb and the tie rail may be ample enough to allow a cow to pass through without entrapment.
  • The tie rail often acts as the water line.

Figure 6 is facing view of Holstein cows standing and resting in a new tie-stall barn. It shows stalls with a wider opening, a higher tie rail and longer chains than traditional stalls. The enhanced features assure greater ease of rising and lying motions.

Figure 6. The stalls have a wide opening, a higher tie rail and longer chain for ease of lunging, rising and lying.

6. Tie Chain - Length & Safety

  • A tie chain confines a cow to her stall space and allows for ease of lunging, resting in the head back position, or grooming.
  • A tie chain with snap should extend only to the height of the manger curb.
  • Prevent entrapment of a leg by installing the proper length of chain.
  • Orient the "tails" of the bracket to extend fore and aft rather than downwards and upwards.
  • Longer chains give cows freedom to show strong signs of estrous.
  • Shorten (e.g., wrap the chain around the tie rail) the chain temporarily (12 to 24 hours) while a cow is in heat.

7. Wide Opening - Forward or Diagonal Lunge

  • When rising or lying normally, a mature Holstein uses about 10 feet of space measured from her tail to her most forward lunge distance.
  • Provide unobstructed forward space for frontward lunging and bobbing of the head - therefore, the wide opening and attention to curb height.
  • Obstructions in the lunging space lead to diagonal (corner-to-corner) standing, lying and rising. Cows still lunge forward relative to their body direction, but diagonal or sidewise to the stall.
  • For side lunging, choose a divider with an opening wide enough to permit easy lunging for rising or lying.

Figure 7 is a photo of the feed manger and cows in a tie-stall barn. An arrow draws attention to the height of the concrete manger curb and the beveled corners. The modest height of the curb allows for normal rising and lying motions and resting postures.

Figure 7. A cow-friendly manger curb has beveled corners. A high curb may obstruct forward extension of the legs. To get room for this normal behaviour, cows lie diagonally in their stalls with their front legs stretched into the neighboring bed.

8. Manger Curb

  • A manger curb defines the forward limit of the bed length measured from the gutter curb.
  • Manger curbs keep bedding out of feed and feed in the manger.
  • Build the curb height 10 to 12 inches - measured from the concrete platform - for mattress stalls.(may be higher for sand stalls)
  • Final curb height should be 8 inches higher than a cow's feet (e.g., top of mattress or mat with bedding, or sand).
  • Avoid curbs higher than 12 inches. The height of the manger curb (and the manger surface) must not interfere with forward lunging motions.
  • Curb height on the manger side will be 4 to 6 inches higher than the manger surface.
  • Although curb height interferes with the normal stride taken during rising, some cows stride into the manger. A slippery surface poses a hazard.
  • A concrete curb is built 6 inches wide to support posts.
  • Concrete and wood are the most common materials used to build manger curbs.
  • Cows will extend their legs forward into the manger and rest with their necks on the curb.
  • Bevel, smooth or round the curb edges on the cow and manger sides.
  • A flat manger surface and a wooden curb may save the cost of forming and pouring a concrete curb. With this technique, producers attach a board (e.g., 2 x 4 or 2 x 6) to the posts that support the stall dividers.

Figure 8 is another photo of the feed manger and two cows, each resting with one front leg extended forward over the manger curb.

Figure 8. The design of the manger curb can make the leg- forward posture a more comfortable resting experience.

9. Manger Height and Surface

  • The height of the manger surface (feed table) is relative to the cow's feet on the bed.
  • Manger height is chosen to minimize pressure on the soles of claws, maximize foot health and make eating more comfortable for cows.
  • Manger height should allow for nearly normal lunging motions with minor compromises for bobbing the head.
  • Cows choose to kneel to eat when the manger is level with or lower than their feet. or when the tie rail is too low.
  • Build the manger surface 4 inches higher than the level of the cow's feet (top of the mattress or bedding). This will be about 6 to 7 inches measured from the concrete platform.
  • Build the 'eating' surface about 24-inches wide.
  • Choose an acid-resistant and relatively smooth surface.
  • Slippery surfaces are a hazard for workers.
  • Ceramic tile, plastic or special concrete are common surfaces for mangers. Each provides benefits, challenges or hazards for consideration.
  • Keep feed within 24-inches of the manger curb.
  • An elevated feed alley keeps feed closer to cows, reduces reaching-for-feed and stepping-forward, minimizes injuries to necks or manure contamination of beds, and reduces labour for pushing up feed.

10. Water Bowls

  • Nose-to-poll length establishes the space required for access to a water bowl. This length is about 24 inches for mature Holstein cows.
  • Provide greater than 24 inches of space from the top of the water bowl to any obstruction above it.
  • An obstruction may be a tie rail, manger divide, or stall divider, depending upon location of the water bowl.
  • Tie rails mounted 44, 46 or 48 inches above the bed allow us to mount water bowls over the manger and to provide >24 inches above the bowl for drinking and adequate space below the bowl for cleaning mangers.
  • The bowl may be placed within a manger divide over the manger when there is 24 inches of unobstructed space above the bowl.
  • Dominant cows may keep submissive cows away from the water bowl. A hinged panel within a manger divide is one man's solution to the problem. Other solutions include a bowl on each side or moving the cow to another stall.
  • Do not mount the water bowl above the tie rail.
  • The risk of wet bedding, mastitis, or slippery beds is greater with bowls over the stall platform.
  • Size the water line for peak flow. Often a 2 to 3 inch line will be large enough.

Figure 9 is a photo showing the installation of a water bowl in a tie stall with a tie-rail restraint system. The water bowl is located over and elevated above the manger surface and it is below the mounting point for the tie rail. The distance from the manger surface to the bottom of the water bowl provides space for easy sweeping of mangers. The space from the top of the water bowl to the bottom of the tie-rail mount is greater than the nose to poll length of a cow's head to assure easy access for water.

Figure 9. The distance from the top of the water bowl to the vertical obstruction is greater than the nose to poll length of the cows. This assures easy access to water. There is also adequate space below the bowl for sweeping the mangers.

11. Platform - Length & Slope

  • The length of the stall platform is the distance from the gutter curb to the manger curb.
  • Use imprint length of the resting cow as a guide for determining platform length.
  • Platform 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 platform for Lactation 1 heifers that have a rump height of 58 to 59 inches.
  • Consider a 72-inch platform for mature Holstein cows measuring 60 inches at the rump.
  • In practice, bed or platform length ranges from 68 to 72 inches. Some producers have built longer beds for cows standing >60 inches at the rump.
  • For stalls with mattresses or mats, measure bed length from the gutter curb to the manger curb.
  • For stalls with bedding keepers and scant bedding, measure bed length from the inside of the keeper to the manger curb. Measure bed length from the gutter side of the bedding keeper when the bedding keeper is kept covered with bedding.
  • The minimum platform length described above will not permit cows to lie straight with their forelegs extended. They will lie diagonally or lie with their rumps over the gutter to attain this normal resting posture. However, 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 stall)
  • Build a slope into the interior of the barn from one end to the other to keep the milk line the same height above the platform.

12. Stall Bed or Cushion

  • Concrete platforms require a cushion for a resting surface.
  • Ample bedding is a best management practice in the Dairy Code.
  • Cows need a cushioning surface with good traction to avoid injuries.
  • Obstructions to normal resting positions and choices in beds or bedding contribute to restlessness and hock blemishes or injuries.
  • Rubber-filled or gel-filled mattresses, foam mats with rubber top covers, mats of various compositions, and organic (straw, sawdust, peat moss) or inorganic (sand) bedding provide varying degrees of cushioning for the stall platform.
  • Mattresses or mats have a limited life expectancy for softness and require replacement after a few years in service.
  • Cover mattresses or mats with chopped straw, sawdust, kiln-dried softwood shavings, or peat moss.
  • Consider absorption (dryness) and traction when choosing bedding.
  • Hardwood shavings or wood chips are unacceptable bedding materials.
  • Solid mats provide varying amounts of cushioning. They require a very generous (e.g., >3 inches) cover with bedding.
  • Some mattresses or mats allow a 'basin' to form that collects urine and milk. This results in wet teats, udders and flanks and a hazard for mastitis.
  • Some mats or top covers are slippery and become slipperier with straw and moisture.
  • Water bowls mounted over the bed can contribute to wetness and slipperiness in the stall.
  • Poor traction with one foot on a slippery bed and the other on ceramic tile in a manger may contribute to a falling-forward hazard while rising or reaching feed.

Figure 10 is a rear view of three Holstein cows lying in their tie stalls. The cow in the left stall is resting with her head along her flank, a normal resting posture made possible because of a longer tie chain. The longer chain also provides more freedom to rise, groom and show visible signs of estrous. The photo also shows ample width of stalls with space between the three cows for freedom to rest in normal positions.

Figure 10. Stalls with ample width and length allow freedom to rest in normal positions. A longer chain allows a cow to rest in the head back position, more freedom to rise, groom, and show visible signs of estrous.

13. Loops or Dividers and Stall Width

  • Loops or dividers define the width of the stall space for each cow.
  • Use imprint width to determine minimum stall width (about two times hook-bone width).
  • Since minimum width prevents cows from resting in wider positions, producers build stalls wider than the minimum.
  • Producers are building tie stalls wider than you may find in free stall barns.
  • Mount dividers on 54-inch centres for average- sized mature Holstein cows. (gives 52 inches of space)
  • In practice, loops are being mounted on 50- to 60- inch centres to provide 48 to 58 inches of space, depending upon cow size or special needs.
  • Mount a loop on each side of a stall space.
  • This prevents cows from swinging widely, contaminating beds with manure or urine, or tramping on teats.
  • Choose a loop design for ease of use by the cow when exiting the stall or the worker when moving milkers between adjacent stalls. Generally, this is a loop with the rear part of the top pipe lower than the forward part of the top pipe.
  • Choose a loop that provides 30-inches of space at the back of the stall. (e.g., a 42-inch loop for 72- inch platforms) Cows need this space to back into while turning to exit a stall safely.
  • Provide 12 inches of space between the top of the bed and the bottom pipe of the divider to avoid entrapment of a cow's head.
  • Mount the supports for milking equipment to the posts. This allows a cow to swing her head easily over the loop without obstructions.
  • Ontario companies manufacture support posts that allow adjustment of the height of the tie rail, loop or water bowl.

Figure 11 shows a rear view of one cow resting and another cow standing in their tie stalls. An arrow points to a metal divider or loop that separates cows and defines the width of their stall space. The divider attaches to a support post and extends towards the rear of the stall. The length of the divider is about 30 inches less than the platform length to allow cows to back into the adjacent stall while exiting.

Figure 11. The divider separates cows in adjacent stalls. This divider leaves about 30 inches of space for cows to back into an adjacent stall when exiting. The top pipe drops down at the back so a cow can easily swing her head over it. This style is suitable for herds feeding total mixed rations.

14. 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.
  • Use a stall divider (loop) for the end partition.
  • Use a section of brisket locator or plastic pipe as an end curb.
  • Use the post for mounting milk and vacuum lines.
  • Vertical and horizontal pipes in end stalls obstruct normal backing or head swinging motions. They may contribute to slips or falls while attempting to cross the gutter when cows exit the stall.
  • Concrete curbs in end stalls are hazards for injuries to hook bones when resting.
  • Concrete curbs restrict normal leg postures for resting cows.
  • Cows avoid end stalls with obstructions when re- entering the barn after being out for exercise.

Figure 12 shows a side view of a left-facing Holstein cow standing in a stall at the end of a row.  A metal pipe and concrete curb define the end of the row of stalls. However, these items prevent the cow from backing to her left to exit the stall. In addition, vertical metal pipes in this installation also are obstructions to her head and neck motions when she attempts to turn to her left while exiting the stall.

Figure 12. An end stall with obstructions to turning poses a challenge and a hazard for cows exiting the stall.

Figure 13 shows a side view of a right-facing Holstein cow standing in a stall at the end of a row.  The restraint at the end of the row is a divider mounted to a post at the manger curb. The top pipe of the divider is low enough to permit a cow to maneuver her head over it while turning to the right to exit the stall. The short length of the divider gives her about 30 inches of space to back into when she turns left to exit the stall. A smooth surface on a plastic curb (about 6-inches high) defines the right edge of the stall surface. It allows her to stretch her hind legs to her right.

Figure 13. An end stall built for ease of exit by the cow provides space for backing or swinging her head. The smooth plastic curb allows her to stretch her hind legs to the right and is less likely to injure body parts than concrete.

15. Stall Height

  • Stall height is the difference in elevation between the walkway and the stall platform.
  • Stall height affects cow and worker safety or comfort.
  • Build the stall platform level with or two inches higher than the walkway.
  • Consider ease of entry or exit for cows and avoidance of cows jumping across gutters.
  • Consider ease of entry or exit for workers (e.g., ergonomics, fatigue, or longevity).
  • Consider ease of doing reproductive examinations and artificial insemination - ergonomics for technicians and veterinarians.
  • Consider the depth of the gutter and frequency of gutter cleaning to avoid overflow of slurry onto walkways or beds.

16. Gutter and Walk Alley

  • The width of the gutter must be less than the step length of a cow.
  • Step length of a cow varies with traction (slipperiness of the floor), lameness and cow size.
  • The walk alley and bed must provide good traction.
  • Build the gutters wide enough to accommodate 18-inch flites on a gutter cleaner.
  • Gutter grates provide a visual clue to cows crossing a gutter and help keep tails out of slurry.
  • Tail ties help keep tails out of slurry.
  • Crown the walk alley one inch from centre to gutter.
  • Choose a rubber with excellent elasticity and traction for the walk alley.

Figure 14 shows a close-up image of the walk alley and the stall platform at the rear of tie stalls. An arrow draws attention to the height differential between the walk alley and the stall bed, about 2 to 3 inches for ease of entry into and exit from stalls for cows and workers.

Figure 14. For cow and worker safety, comfort and ergonomics, stall height may be 2-3 inches higher than the walk alley elevation.

17. Electric Cow Trainers

  • Electric trainers will train cows to step back when arching their backs for defecation or urination.
  • The purpose is to position cows so they defecate or urinate in the gutter rather than the stall bed.
  • Electric trainers must not restrict the normal eating, standing or lying behaviour of cows.
  • Trainers must not restrict access to feed or water.
  • Position the trainer 48 inches (e.g., range 47 to 49 inches, horizontal measurement) forward of the gutter curb for Holsteins in stalls with 68- to 72- inch platforms.
  • Position the trainer 42 inches (e.g., range 41 to 43 inches) forward of the gutter curb for Jerseys in stalls with 62- to 66-inch platforms.
  • Position the trainer about 2 inches above the chine for training purposes (about 24 hours).
  • Raise the trainer to about 4 inches above the chine after the training period.
  • The trainer may be lowered to 2 inches for remedial training (24 hours) and then raised again to 4 inches above the chine.
  • The trainer must have a height adjustment and a fore and aft adjustment for each cow.
  • Trainers must have secure attachment so they do not fall upon a cow.
  • The distance between the trainer bow and the cow must be at least 2 inches.
  • The cow trainer bow must be raised to a higher position when a cow is expected to be or is in heat.
  • The power supply must be of low voltage (e.g., 2,500) and power output (e.g., 0.1 to 0.2 Joules).
  • The power supply must be grounded to a dedicated rod outside the barn and not to any stabling within the barn.
  • The proper placement of trainers contributes directly to stall and cow cleanliness and indirectly to udder health and claw health.
  • Properly installed and maintained electric trainers are essential components of the stall unit.

Figure 15 shows a side view taken from an end stall and illustrates the location of the milk lines and the power line for an electric cow trainer. An arrow draws attention to the location of the electric cow trainer more rearward relative to the cow bed and highlights the importance of giving priority to the trainer to assure proper installation.

Figure 15. The location of the trainer must have priority over the location of the milk and vacuum lines.

  • Cleanliness may be a challenge because cows step forward while eating and may defecate during the time they are standing forward.
  • Incorrectly positioned trainers prevent a cow from showing strong signs of heat, making heat detection difficult and contributing to poor reproductive performance.
  • Incorrectly positioned trainers force cows to eat while on their knees.
  • Incorrectly positioned electric trainers make cows urinate or defecate without arching their back.
  • The location of the milk and vacuum lines must not interfere with the correct location for the trainer. The trainer has priority.
  • The directions for installation should include the indications for use.

Figure 16 is a line drawing showing a side view of a cow standing in a tie stall and the location of the electric trainer suspended above her. The cow's back feet are near the gutter curb and her back is arched in a urinating posture. The horizontal location of the trainer is at the cow's chine, slightly ahead of the point where her back begins to arch.

Figure 16. The trainer is located at the chine and slightly ahead of the point where the back begins to arch when a cow defecates or urinates. The trainers should be located at least two inches (five cm) above the chine. (Illustration courtesy of G. Rietveld, OMAFRA)

  • Diet and consistency of manure affect stall cleanliness and usefulness of electric trainers.
  • The posture and the arc in her spine of a defecating cow vary with feeds and feeding husbandry.
  • Generally, a diet of dry hay and some corn silage leads to firm manure - and an arc in the spine during defecation.
  • There may be no arc in the spine and very slight elevation of the tail with diets that predispose cows to diarrhea.
  • Cow cleanliness concerns and apparent failure of trainers may be corrected by feeding for firmer manure and regaining the arced posture for defecation.

Figure 17 is a side view of a left-facing Holstein cow in her tie stall. The cow has an arched spine, her hind feet near the gutter curb, and she is urinating in the gutter. An electric trainer is situated safely her chine as described in Figure 16.

Figure 17. The trainer is located safely above the cow's chine when she stands back in the stall, arches her back and urinates in the gutter.

18. Reading List

Anderson N. Observations on dairy cow comfort: diagonal lunging, resting standing and perching in free stalls. Proc Am Soc Agric Eng Dairy Housing Conf 2003, 26-34.

Anderson N. Repetitive trauma to the nuchal ligament-gall, callus, hygroma and bursitis. Ceptor 2003, 11:5-7. Available at http://oabp.ca/Ceptor/2013/Ceptor%20July.pdf

Bergsten C, Pettersson B. The cleanliness of cows tied in stalls and the health of their hooves as influenced by the use of electric trainers. Prev Vet Med 1992, 13(4):229-238.

Ceballos A, Sanderson D, Rushen J, Weary DM. Improving stall design: Use of 3-D kinematics to measure space use by dairy cows when lying down. J Dairy Sci 2004, 87(7):2042-2050.

Chaplin S, Munksgaard L. Evaluation of a simple method for assessment of rising behaviour in tethered dairy cows. Ani Sci 2001, 72:191-197. Ekesbo I. Disease incidence in tied and loose housed dairy cattle. Acta Agric Scand 1966, 15s:74. Gjestang KE. Feeding table geometry in relation to dairy cow comfort. Proc International Livestock Environment Symposium. 1982, 433-437.

Haley D, Passille A, Rushen J. Assessing cow comfort: effects of two-floor types and two tie stall designs on the behaviour of lactating dairy cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2001, 71(2):105-117.

Hultgren J. A preliminary study of behavioural methods for assessing the influence of electric cow-trainers on animal health. Vet Res Communications. 1991, 15(4):291-300.

Oltenacu PA, Hultgren J, Algers B. Associations between use of electric cow-trainers and clinical diseases, reproductive performance and culling in Swedish dairy cattle. Prev Vet Med 1998, 37(1-4):77-90.

Oswald T. Der Kuhtrainer. 1992. Is the cow trainer compatible with proper stock keeping? ISBN 3-9520182-3-6.

Rushen J, Haley D, de Passille AM. Effect of softer flooring in tie stalls on resting behavior and leg injuries of lactating cows. J Dairy Sci 2007, 90(8):3647-3651.

Tucker CB, Weary DM. Bedding on geotextile mattresses: how much is needed to improve cow comfort? J Dairy Sci 2004, 87(9):2889-2895. Zurbrigg K, Kelton D, Anderson N, Millman M. Stall dimensions and the prevalence of lameness, injury, and cleanliness on 317 tie-stall dairy farms in Ontario. Can Vet J 2005, 46(10):902-09.

Zurbrigg K, Kelton D, Anderson N, Millman S. Tie- stall design and its relationship to lameness, injury, and cleanliness on 317 Ontario dairy farms. J Dairy Sci 2005, 88(9):3201-3210.

Table 3. Dimensions at a Glance

Tie rail

  • Height from concrete platform (add cushion)
  • Height from stall cushion (cow's feet) 44, 46, 48 in
  • Forward from centre of manger curb 8 - 12 inches
  • Forward from gutter curb ~ 86 inches

Stall platform

  • Length - Lactation 1 - 70 inches
  • Length - Mature cows - 72 inches
  • Slope - 2% or 1.5 to 2 inches in 6 feet
  • Height above walkway - 2 inches

Tie chain

  • Length - top of manger curb
  • Includes the snap

Stall Width

  • 54 inch centres
  • range 50 to 60 (cow size, special needs)

Manger curb

  • Height from concrete platform 12 inches
  • Height from stall bed or cushion 8 inches
  • Height from feed table (manger) 4 to 6 inches
  • Fee Width - 6 inches

Loops or Dividers

  • 30 inches shorter than platform

Electric trainer (Holsteins)

  • 48 inches forward of gutter curb
  • Range 47 to 49 inches

Feed table - manger surface

  • Width 24 inches
  • Height 4 inches above bed surface


  • Depth - 16 inches
  • Width - 18 inches

Figure 18. The diagram shows a tie stall with a head rail. The table shows variations in stall dimensions for Holstein cows - First Lactation, Milking and Dry Cows. Nonetheless, it's good advice to measure your cows before deciding on stall sizes.

Figure 18. The diagram shows a tie stall with a head rail. The table shows variations in stall dimensions for Holstein cows - First Lactation, Milking and Dry Cows. Nonetheless, it's good advice to measure your cows before deciding on stall sizes. (Courtesy of Harold House, OMAFRA)

Companion Infosheets

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca