Producers are faced with a wide range of recommendations when installing new housing
facilities or renovating an existing barn. In previous Research Reports, we have
discussed the effects of providing a comfortable environment for dairy cattle
to lie down and have reported information concerning the choice of bedding. In
addition to the lying surface, the configuration of the free stall can affect
cow comfort and stall cleanliness.
Unfortunately, there has been very little scientific research on free-stall
design and dimensions, and the existing recommendations to producers are highly
variable. For example, one recent producer-oriented article suggested that stalls
for adult Holsteins should be between 47” – 51” wide and 8’4”
– 8’10” long, but another recent article recommended a width
of only 44” and a length of 7’3”.
In this report we describe some of our latest research at the UBC Dairy Centre
that will provide a scientific basis to such recommendations, by testing how
various free stall dimensions affect both cow comfort and stall cleanliness.
In one experiment we looked at both free-stall length and width, and compared
some of the recommendations described above. Cow behaviour was video recorded
24 hours per day using ‘time-lapse’ recorders developed for the security
industry. Cows were tested with four types of stalls:
1) 44” wide, 7’6” long (NS; Narrow Short),
2) 44” wide, 9’ long (NL: Narrow Long),
3) 52” wide, 7’6” long (WS: Wide Short), and
4) 52” wide 9’ long (WL: Wide Long).
Cows spent an additional 1.5 hours per day lying down in the two wide stalls compared
to the narrow ones. In addition, both length and width affected the amount of
time spent standing with only the front hooves in the stall. We found animals
with access to the largest stall (52” wide, 9’ long) spent 2 hours per
day standing half-in-half-out, while animals with access to the smallest stall
(44” wide, 7’6” long) spent nearly 3 hours standing in this position
(see Figure 1).
Cows spend more time standing
and -half-out of stalls as the total area available
In a second experiment, we compared three free-stall widths: 41.5”, 45.5”,
49.5”. As in the first experiment, we found that cows spent more time lying
down in the wider stalls (Figure 2), and less time standing half-in-half-out.
Cows spend more time lying
in wider stalls.
Thus providing wider stalls increases lying time and reduces the time cows spend
standing half-in-half-out. Prolonged standing in this way may be a sign of discomfort,
and has negative health consequences for the animals. While standing with the
back hooves in the alley, the hooves are exposed to moisture and fecal material
that can increase the risk of hoof health problems like digital dermatitis and
sole lesions. Lying down is also important for cow health. Reducing lying time
results in physiological changes, such as reduced secretion of growth hormone
and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, cows that spend less
time lying down spend more time standing outside of the stall, and increased standing
time on concrete floors increases lameness.
In the second experiment we also measured stall cleanliness by collecting and
weighing the fecal material in the stalls. We found that the wider stalls contain
more fecal material, but this was simply because cows spent more time in these
stalls. Thus some poorly designed stalls will stay relatively clean because cows
are less likely to use them. In other experiments we have tested the effect of
neck rail placement, a feature of stall design that can help improve stall cleanliness
without reducing lying time. We will describe our findings from these experiments
in a future Research Report.
Dr. Dan M. Weary :
Industrial Research Chair in Animal Welfare – Associate Professor in Agroecology
at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of British Columbia
This article is based on thesis research of Ph.D. student Cassandra Tucker. Dan
Weary is an Associate Professor in the Animal Welfare Program
Thanks to DFC, BCDF, Westgen and many others in the dairy industry for their support
of this research.