Posted: November 19, 2009
While determining the best dimensions for your cow stalls is important for the comfort of your cow, there are many other aspects to consider from using a custom-fit approach. The problem with using standard measurements to get the best dimensions to create a free stall for your cattle is that there are so many different opinions on what constitutes “the best” and little scientific study to back any of the theories.
Whether you are building a new facility for your dairy cattle or you are looking to improve an existing one, you want to use the ideal measurements to create the best conditions for your cattle. By doing so, it is any dairy producer’s hope to prevent some conditions from occurring that will result in the decrease in the cow’s health and will reduce milk production.
Keeping the stall clean is of the utmost importance in keeping the cow healthy. Problems with the health of the animal’s feet can be the result of an unclean free stall. That means you want to incorporate the dimensions into your stall design that will encourage the animals to remain in the stall rather that standing half in and half out. If a cow spends a lot of time in this position, then it is usually because it doesn’t have the adequate room to remain comfortably within the area of the stall.
Standing half in and half out can also be the cause of hoof and health problems since the back hooves are in the alley where they are exposed to more moisture and fecal material, increasing the risk of digital dermatitis and lesions on the soles. You want your cow to have the comfortable dimensions that will encourage her to spend the most time completely in the stall. However, standing in the stall means an increase in the time on concrete floors that can also lead to lesions and lameness. The use of rubber mats on the concrete can provide cushioning that will prevent problems from occurring as a result of standing in the stall.
You will also want to encourage the most lying time for the cows in the stall in order to reduce the time they spend standing outside the stall as well as to prevent physiological changes that can take place with reduced lying time. These include a decrease in the secretion of growth hormone and an increase in the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Either of these conditions can lead to a reduction in production of milk.
Once you are aware of the goal you want to reach with your stall design, you can take into consideration the measurements that have been shown to obtain these results most frequently. When designing a stall that will encourage an increase in lying time, there is more to consider than the length of the stall. A cow in a wider stall will spend significantly more time lying than one in a narrow stall. Additionally, a cow in a shorter stall will spend more time standing in the half in and half out position than those in longer stalls.
When given a range of choices for the width and length of stall dimensions for your cattle, you will most likely get the best results when using the more generous recommendations. Also, providing rubber mats on the surface will provide cushioning that will help prevent lameness in the cow during the time that it is standing.
Wider stalls have also been shown to contain more fecal matter than those that are narrow due to the increase in the time the cow spends in the stall. In other words, a clean stall is not necessarily a good thing. A clean stall may only be the result of a poor design that increases the time the cow spends outside of it. For mature dairy cattle, a free stall should be 52” wide and 9’ long in order to get the best results from your animals and maintenance should be performed regularly to ensure the cows have dry, fresh bedding and less contact with fecal matter.
Providing you cattle with the free stall dimensions that have been shown to produce the best results may seem to be a big expense but it will probably be the cheapest alternative for you in the end. Smaller stalls will produce cows that are not as healthy and which do not produce the milk that you will expect from a healthy, comfortable cow.