Dairy Cow Comfort - Free-stall
- Choices - stall maintenance & manure
- 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
- 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
- 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
Figure 1. Variation in cow size within and between
herds highlights the need to measure your cows before choosing stall
- 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
- 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.
||length 102 (range 96-110)
||1.6 x rump height
|Imprint length - resting
||1.2 x rump height
||2 * x hook- bone width
|Forward lunge space
||0.4 x rump height
|Stride length when rising
||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
||26 (range 24-27)
4. Space Requirements
- 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
- Figures 2 & 3 show several cow dimensions that define this
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Table 2. Stall dimensions, estimated relationships
to body dimensions and example calculations for mature Holsteins
||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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
10. Bed Length and Slope
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- Allows all body parts (including the tail) to rest on the
- Provides the bed length needed to rest parallel to the
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- Chopped straw, kiln-dried sawdust, kiln-dried softwood
shavings, compost (manure solids), and peat moss are common
- Absorbency (dryness) and traction are important.
- Hardwood shavings or wood chips are unacceptable bedding
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
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
- Build a concrete curb 6 inches wide to support posts.
- Bevel, smooth or round the curb edges on the cow and manger
- 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
- 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
- Eliminate unnecessary steps into and out of pens, at crossovers,
or into milking parlors when designing or building free-stall
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Water outlets and hoses at strategic locations allow workers
to wash their boots when exiting cow alleys and before entering
- 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
- 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,
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)
Anderson NG. Observations on dairy cow comfort: diagonal lunging,
resting, standing and perching in free stalls. Proc 5th Int'l Dairy
Housing Conference, ASAE 2003:26-35.
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.
Cook NB, Bennett TB, Nordlund KV. Effect of free stall surface
on daily activity patterns in dairy cows with relevance to lameness
prevalence. J Dairy Sci 2004; 87(9):2912-2922.
Cook NB, Bennett TB, Nordlund KV. Monitoring indices of cow comfort
in free-stall-housed dairy herds. J Dairy Sci 2005; 88(11):3876-3885.
Cook NB, Nordlund KV, Oetzel GR. Environmental influences on claw
horn lesions associated with laminitis and subacute ruminal acidosis
in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 2004; 87:E36-46.
Cook NB, Mentink RL, Bennett TB, Burgi K. The effect of heat stress
and lameness on time budgets of lactating dairy cows. J Dairy Sci
2007; 90(4):1674-1682. Cook NB, Nordlund KV. Publications about
stalls and beds. Last accessed January 14, 2012 http://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/dms/fapm/forms_info.
Drissler M, Gaworski M, Tucker CB, Weary DM. Freestall maintenance:
effects on lying behavior of dairy cattle. J Dairy Sci 2005; 88(7):2381-2387.
Fregonesi JA, Tucker CB, Weary DM. Overstocking reduces lying
Time in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2007;
Fulwider WK, Grandin T, Garrick DJ, et al. Influence of free-stall
base on tarsal joint lesions and hygiene in dairy cows. J Dairy
Sci 2007; 90(7):3559-3566.
Gaworski MA, Tucker CB, Weary DM, Swift ML. Effects of stall design
on dairy cattle behaviour. ASAE Proc 5th International Dairy Housing
Conference Fort Worth, Texas. 2003:139-46.
Huzzey JM, von Keyserlingk MAG, Weary DM. Changes in feeding,
drinking, and standing behavior of dairy cows during the transition
period. J Dairy Sci 2005; 88(7):2454-2461.
Mowbray L, Vittie T, Weary DM. Hock lesions and free- stall design:
effects of stall surface. Proceedings 5th Int'l Dairy Housing Conference,
Olsson J, Magnusson M, Ventorp M. The effect of the passage flooring
in cubicle houses on the behavioural time-budget of dairy cows.
Proc Int'l Soc Anim Hygiene. 2005; 2:140.
Overton MW, Sischo WM, Temple GD, Moore DA. Using time-lapse video
photography to assess dairy cattle lying behavior in a free-stall
barn. J Dairy Sci 2002; 85(9):2407-2413.
Philipot JM, Pluvinage P, Cimarosti I, Sulpice P, Bugnard F. Risk
factors of dairy cow lameness associated with
housing conditions. Vet Research 1994; 25(2-3):244-248.
Tucker CB, Weary DM, Fraser D. Effects of three types of free-stall
surfaces on preferences and stall usage by dairy cows. J Dairy Sci
Tucker CB, Weary DM, Fraser D. Free-stall dimensions: effects
on preference and stall usage. J Dairy Sci 2004;
Tucker CB, Weary DM. Bedding on geotextile mattresses: how much
is needed to improve cow comfort? J Dairy Sci 2004; 87(9):2889-2895.
Tucker CB, Weary DM, Fraser D. Influence of neck-rail placement
on free-stall preference, use, and cleanliness. J Dairy Sci 2005;
Tucker CB, Weary DM, de Passillé AM, Campbell B, Rushen
J. Flooring in front of the feed bunk affects feeding behavior and
use of freestalls by dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2006; 89(6):2065-2071.
Tucker CB, Zdanowicz G, Weary DM. Brisket boards reduce freestall
use. J Dairy Sci 2006; 89(7):2603-2607.