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Good Freestalls Help Productive Cows

Posted: January 14, 2005

A good freestall is one that cows will use for 10-14 hours each day!

This is important for productivity because blood flow to the udder, and therefore milk production, increase when a cow is lying down. Also, lameness problems are reduced when cows regularly “get off their feet.” A healthy, mobile cow is essential for regular bouts of eating and to facilitate traveling to the milking parlor. In addition to providing the cow comfort and ease in reclining, lying and rising the stall should also be dry and have adequate bedding to protect the udder and teats from manure and provide comfortable body support.

Every year more is learned about what makes a good freestall. Today’s recommendations for stall sizes may be different than when a barn was built ten years ago. A typical cow will require a space with 8 ½ to 9 feet of length and about 4 feet wide to comfortably and consistently rise and recline. This may be provided completely inside a stall 9 feet long or by a stall front design that allows the cow to extend her head and neck into a facing stall, alley or outside the barn. Ultimately one must carefully observe the cows and make adjustments to suit what their actions and sometimes injuries are telling you. Think about the driver’s seat of a car or tractor. One can operate the vehicle more comfortably, confidently and for longer periods of time if the seat contours fit the operator’s body and the height and distance from the controls are adjusted to suit personal needs. The manufacturer is responsible for providing a seat that can be adjusted to fit a variety of expected users. Freestalls are no different. Handbook recommendations for freestall sizes and equipment are starting points. Careful observation of the actions of the users (cows) will tell you what adjustments are necessary to maximize stall comfort and use.

Important items to consider when planning a freestall are the length and width provided for the cow to position herself and move about in the stall and the location of possible obstructions such as the neck rail, brisket board or tube, stall front support and rear curb. Often stalls that were OK with one type of bedding are less desirable when bedding type is changed or maintenance intervals are extended. A newly expanded herd with many young cows may comfortably use smaller stall sizes then the same herd a few years later as average age (and size) increases.

While the nominal size for a good freestall may be about 8 ½ by 4 feet there are a variety of things that might change to make stalls more or less comfortable. Part of good cow care is observing the cows, stalls and their interactions to assure that everything is OK. If cows are not regularly lying down in your stalls you need to determine the reason why and take appropriate actions.

Robert E. Graves
Agricultural, Biological, & Engineering Extension