Tie Stall Dimensions for Dairy Cows
Table of Contents
Knowledge of cow measurements and their space requirements is necessary 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 and the caregiver. Cleanliness is an important consideration. This document describes cow dimensions, space requirements and tie-stall dimensions for modern Canadian Holstein cows.
Due to variation in cow size between and within herds, the first step in planning stall size is the measurement of Lactation 1 and mature cows in your herd. For tie stalls, it is common to build more than one size of stall. Therefore, measure a sample of the small, medium and large cows. 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.
It is becoming common to build stalls sized for Lactation 1 heifers, milking cows and dry or special-needs cows, in recognition of variation in cow size and needs within a herd.
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. Variation in cow size within and between herds highlights the need to measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.
Figure 2. Several cow measurements taken on standing cows are useful for building stalls. Other essential measurements are imprint length and imprint width of resting cows.
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.
UBC research showed a 1350 lb cow uses 118 in longitudinal space and 43 in lateral space when lying.
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 (16-24) inches of open forward space for lunging motions.
Several cow dimensions that define this living space include those
shown in Figure 2 plus imprint length and width.
Figure 3. Imprint length extends from the folded foreknee to the
tail. This length defines the bed length of a stall.
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 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. 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. 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.
The space needed for lying and rising motions (lunging) extends forward, downward and upward forehead lunge and bob, vertically and forward for standing and laterally for hindquarter movements. Knowledge of this space is essential for properly sizing the opening at the front of tie stalls, positioning tie rails, choosing the shape and dimensions of stall dividers and avoiding hazards when turning out of stalls.
Although nose-to-tail length is essential, it is a difficult dimension to gather. Since 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 13, at the end of this document, is a drawing showing a single, tie-rail stall and several example dimensions for large, medium and small Holsteins. Measure your cows before choosing stall sizes.
The standing surface for the feet is the reference for vertical
placement of the tie rail and the bottom of the manger. The tie
rail forward location is a horizontal measurement from the gutter
* Producers are building most new tie stalls wider than this minimum width. The most common minimum width is 54 inches.
A tie rail (sometimes called a head rail) is the pipe used as the attachment for the tie chain. It controls the forward location of a cow while standing in the stall and often acts as the water line. Proper location of the tie rail lets a cow stand straight (parallel to the dividers) with all four feet in the stall and rise or lie without contacting it. The vertical location above the bed is about 0.8 x rump height. It mounts forward of the manger curb and over the manger. Standing in the gutter, diagonal standing or neck injuries are the most obvious signs of incorrect placement of the tie rail or obstructions at the front of the stall. Canarm-BSM Agri (Arthur, ON), Donald Horst & Sons (Elmira, ON), Norwell Dairy Systems, (Drayton, ON) and MSD Stabling (Williamsford, ON) manufacture and sell stabling that allows adjustment of the height and forward location of the tie rail. The tie chain with snap should extend only to the height of the manger curb.
Figure 6. A tie rail placed 48 inches above the mattress and 86 inches forward of the gutter curb allows medium size cows (about 58-inch rump height) to stand straight in the stall. While standing idly chewing their cuds, their poll will be at tie-rail height and behind it and most of their head will extend below and forward of the tie rail. Larger cows will stand diagonally in stalls with those measurements.
In tie stalls, cleanliness is always a challenge because cows step forward while eating and defecate during the time they are standing forward. Although it has some drawbacks, a front on the manger would keep feed closer to cows and may reduce the reaching-for-feed and stepping-forward seen with sweep-in mangers. An alternative with high tie-rail stalls is to locate the tie rail closer to the manger curb to reduce the frequency of cows stepping forward while eating. Because of the height, there is less need for the rail to be further forward of the manger curb as there is with low tie rails.
When rising or lying normally, a mature Holstein uses about 10 feet of space measured from her tail to her most forward lunge distance. The forward space must be unobstructed for frontward lunging and bobbing of the head.
Short beds or stalls with 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. Since the top pipe of the divider becomes a restraint when cows lunge through it, it must have a wide opening to permit easy rising or lying, but be low enough to restrict passage through it. From mattress top to the bottom of this pipe is usually 46 inches in many new stalls. The divider also must have a low mount at manger curb height that does not inhibit the ability to lunge over it. The measurement from the top of the mattress to the top of the bottom pipe should be less than 12 inches.
Figure 7. In most barns, the divider provides support for milk
lines and separation of 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.
A manger curb restricts the forward location of a cow lying in the stall, controls the movement of bedding into feed and retains feed in the manger. It defines the forward limit of the bed length measured from the gutter curb.
Concrete and wood have been the most common materials used for
manger curbs. Because of their height, manger curbs interfere with
the normal stride taken during rising. However, some cows stride
into the manger and a slippery surface poses a hazard.
Figure 8. A cow-friendly manger curb has beveled corners. The curb acts as an obstruction to 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.
It is common to build a 10-inch curb height measured from the concrete platform to the top of the curb. This measurement decreases to 8 or less inches on the cow side with the addition of a rubber-filled mattress or ample bedding. Despite the 8-inch height, many cows will extend their legs forward into the manger. Therefore, the curb should have rounded, beveled or smoothed edges. Recently, a plastic brisket locator used in free stalls has been modified for use as a manger curb. A flat manger surface and a wooden curb save construction costs. With this technique, producers attach the board (e.g., 2 x 4 or 2 x 6) to the support posts for the stall dividers.
The manger surface is 4 inches higher than the level of the cow's feet. Although this height compromises a cow's ability to bob her head when lying or rising, it is chosen to maximize foot health of the front feet. In barns with the manger at or below bed height, the odds are greater that cows will have sole ulcers on the inner claws of the front feet. The increased risk is related to changes to weight bearing of the inner claws when a cow spreads her front feet apart (laterally) to lower her body while reaching for feed. The 4-inch manger height minimizes the foot-spreading behaviour and the foot problems. The elevated manger also reduces the frequency of cows kneeling to reach feed.
Bed length should equal imprint length - about 1.2 times rump height. For example, most Lactation 1 heifers have a rump height of 58-59 inches and would need about a 70-inch bed. Mature cows measuring 60 inches at the rump would need a 72-inch bed. For stalls with rubber-filled mattresses, effective bed length is the distance from gutter curb to manger curb. For stalls with bedding keepers and bedding kept below the height of the bedding keeper, effective bed length is measured from the inside of the keeper to the manger curb. If the bedding keeper is kept covered with long straw, then stall length could be measured from the gutter side of the bedding keeper.
Minimum bed width should equal imprint width - about two times hook-bone width. But minimum width doesn't allow cows to lay over in wider resting positions. Because of this limitation, astute producers are building tie stalls wider than one would find in free stall barns. A 54-inch wide stall is becoming common for small cows, 57-inch for medium cows and 60-inch stalls for dry cows or the very largest cows in the herd.
A thick bed of straw has been the most common cushioning surface
for tie stalls. However, rubber-filled mattresses are becoming a
more popular subsurface for stalls. These mattresses still need
a covering with chopped straw, sawdust or kiln-dried softwood shavings.
Hardwood shavings or wood chips are unacceptable bedding materials.
Rubber mats provide minimal cushioning and they require a very generous
(3 inches) cover with bedding if used in stalls.
Although soft, the foam used atop some mattresses forms a 'basin' that collects urine and milk. This results in wet teats, udders and flanks. Contractors put greater slope on the platform in an attempt to get better drainage from foam-filled mattresses.
Nose-to-poll length establishes the space required for access to a water bowl. This length is about 24 inches for mature cows. Therefore, the distance from the top of the water bowl to any obstruction above it should be greater than 24 inches.
With higher tie rails, bowls can be mounted to provide ample access
for drinking and adequate space below for cleaning mangers. If a
manger divide is installed, and the bowl mounted within it, it must
have about a 30-inch opening for easy access to the water. Similar
access must be available when bowls are mounted over the bed and
within the stall divider.
Figure 10. 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.
The proper placement of trainers contributes to stall and cow cleanliness and udder health. Another benefit relates to improved claw health from cleaner beds.
Figure 11. For Holsteins in stalls with 70 - 72-inch platforms, the trainer should be 48 inches (range 47 - 49) forward of the gutter curb. For Jerseys in stalls with 62 - 66-inch platforms, the forward location is 42 inches (range 41 - 43). Remember that they are trainers and should be located about two inches above the chine for a 24 - 48-hour training period. After training, raise them to 4 inches. They can be lowered for 24 hours of remedial training but must be raised again afterwards. The trainer must have a height adjustment for each cow.
Thomas Oswald, a Swiss Researcher, showed tie stalls were not any dirtier with operation of trainers two days a week compared to 7 days a week. Oswald also showed that 90% of all contacts with the bow did not happen during urinating or defecating. He concluded that operation of trainers one or two days per week should be a reasonable way of reducing the stress associated with the electric shocks.
Incorrectly positioned trainers prevent some cows from showing strong signs of heat, making heat detection difficult and contributing to poor reproductive performance. The cow trainer bow must be raised to a higher position when a cow is expected to be or is in heat. Trainers must have secure attachment so they do not fall upon a cow and cause abusive damage. The distance between the trainer bow and the cow must be at least 5 cm (2 inches).
The directions for installation should include the indications
for use. For example, 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. In addition, there are contradictions for use.
Electric trainers are not to be used to restrict the normal eating,
standing or lying behaviour of cows. Trainers must not restrict
access to feed or water.
Figure 12. 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)
A comfortable and safe stall requires attention to detail in construction and maintenance. A stall is a unit and all features must be maintained to assure cow safety.
In general, a tie-rail height of 48 inches (measured from the top of the bed to the bottom of the pipe) is adequate for most Holstein cows. Tie rails located >50 inches are a hazard causing injury to the sensitive supraspinous processes of the neck.
Several factors may contribute to cows exiting their stalls into mangers. Some rubber mats are slippery and become even slipperier with straw and water. Cows can slip when rising and fall forward into the manger. Water bowls mounted over the bed can contribute to wetness and slipperiness in the stall. A cow on a wet mat may have poor traction with both front feet (mat and tile manger) when she strides to rise or reach for feed.
Usually, cows exiting through front of stalls with high tie rails are unharmed. However, some have been injured. One hazard to avoid is the clamp that fixes the chain to the tie rail. It should be oriented so the "tails" of the bracket extend fore and aft rather than downwards and upwards.
At a farm with a narrow opening in the stall divider, a cow got her head trapped under it. The dividers were designed by the owner and have become popular. The original designer points out the hazard to visitors to his farm and advises mounting the dividers higher above the bed.
When tie chains are too long, a cow can get a loop wrapped around her front leg. The chain is too long when the snap on the end extends below the manger curb. Compared to conventional tie chains (21 inches), the new chain-length recommendations give cows freedom to show strong signs of estrous. Most producers shorten the chain by wrapping it around the tie rail for 24 hours. This prevents cows from jumping over low stall dividers.
Stall cleanliness is a concern with the larger stalls and longer chains. For sure, stall and cow cleanliness were design criteria that led to low tie rails, short tie-chains, comfort stalls, stanchions, short beds and narrow stalls. However, the old stalls also challenged cows through injuries, discomfort and stress that decreased their longevity and production. That's why producers are trying new, larger stalls with higher tie rails and longer tie chains. In a recent comparison at one farm, the frequency of manure on the stalls was the same in the new and the old stalls. Properly installed and maintained electric trainers are essential components of the stall unit.
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 lead
to liquid manure or as fecal consistency approaches diarrhea. The
solution to cow cleanliness concerns and apparent failure of trainers
may be feeding for firmer manure and regaining the arced posture
Figure 13. 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
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