Posted: November 17, 2009
Lameness is one of the biggest problems faced by dairy producers who keep their cattle indoors in stalls. When working to reduce the occurrence of lameness in the cows, they usually approach the question of size of stall and the condition of bedding to increase the amount of lying time for the cows. They also look at the time each cow spends with all four feet in the stall and how much they spend perched with two feet in the alley. Contamination from feces and urine are to blame for lameness and a poorly designed stall can lead to an increase in hoof health problems and lameness.
One of the biggest considerations for dairy producers is that of the cow’s comfort in the stall. When a cow is provided adequate space and the dry, fresh bedding she prefers, it helps to encourage more lying time. Providing an adequate surface and bedding in the stall is important to maximize the resting time and prevents the cow from spending too much time on her feet. The last thing the dairy producer wants to do is to discourage lying time and cause an increase in the time spent standing on the hard surface or in the alley where contact with fecal matter can cause problems. Depending on the surface of the stall and the comfort provided by it, she will favor lying time as long as she has the adequate dry bedding that is maintained. While the time that is spent lying is the primary consideration for cow comfort and for preventing lameness, it is also important to consider the time that the cow must spend standing while eating or drinking to protect them from the hard concrete surface that is used in most stalls.
While using a tie stall that controls the forward movement of the cow will help prevent her from leaving the stall, a concrete surface may cause a reduction in the time that she spends eating. A free stall may lead to the cow spending more time outside of the stall altogether.
While stall design is important to encourage adequate lying time and reduce health problems such as lameness, feeding is also an important activity that should be considered when determining the surface the animal will be standing on. A lactating cow that is kept in a stall spends an average of five hours per day in front of the feed bunk. This is a necessity in keeping the cow healthy and producing high levels of milk. However, cattle that had rubber mats in the feeding area have been shown to spend the greatest amount of time eating.
Concrete is the most common type of flooring surface used in dairy barns. It is a durable surface that is easily obtained, low in cost, and easy to clean. Unfortunately, it also contributes largely to the problem of lameness in dairy cattle. Standing on the hard surface can also contribute to the decrease of cow comfort that will reduce the amount of time they spend eating and the displays of estrus.
Another durable material that is becoming more popular as the surfacing material for the comfort of the cow is rubber. Many producers have found that the rubber improves the comfort of the cow by providing much better cushioning than that of concrete and also provides the traction needed for safety. It is beneficial in two ways: It increases the comfort of the cow while standing so that the likelihood of lameness is decreased and it increases the time that the cow will spend eating which will lead to greater milk production.
Other features of the stall can contribute to the success of feeding dairy cows. The more space the cows have available to them, the less aggressive their behavior will be while feeding thereby allowing them to increase their feeding activity. Therefore, to provide your dairy cows with the maximum benefits from their eating area, allow enough space to minimize competition, use rubber matting for cushioning and to provide comfort, and design the stall with the appropriate dimensions for exceptional function and comfort.