How proper free stall design impacts dairy breeding stock

No dairy farmer needs reminding of one simple fact — the welfare of their cows has a substantial direct effect on the value of their breeding stock. Of course, cows in show condition sell for more — but the factors that detract from the cows’ well-being are not always obvious.

Sure, keeping cows clean and well-fed are essential tasks — but they’re not the only ones you should focus on. A well-managed and well-designed dairy free stall is critical to the long-term well-being of your breeding cattle.

A flexible free stall, designed with adequate proportions, can increase the efficiency of rumination, reduce excessive standing, minimize lameness and other injuries — and even improve cleanliness.

With a proper stall, a cow will have enough room to comfortably move in and out and have a comfortable space to lie down. And, of course, proper stall management is just as vital — the lying surface needs to be made as comfortable and clean as possible.

Also, stalls that are too stiff or unforgiving — often a problem with steel stalls — can result in a cow rubbing or putting pressure on the stall. This causes skin injuries, or cows being forced to lay in a position that can cause injury. On the other hand, stalls that are too flexible don’t always keep the cow in the proper position either — which means having a stall that’s just right is vital.

Excessive Standing

An mature cow spends around 12 hours lying down each day because they need adequate rest. And the quality and cleanliness of their stall can negatively impact this. For example, an uncomfortable stall will result in cows standing longer than they otherwise would — affecting the rest of their natural behavior cycle. 

If cows stand longer than they naturally would, they will also lay down for an unnaturally long time when they finally decide to settle. In turn, this negatively impacts their water and feed intake — they consume more significant proportions less frequently, ultimately consuming in a less efficient way. 

Lower Milk Production 

Finally, all of this leads to unsatisfactory milk production. The time a cow spends lying down directly affects how much blood is pumped to her udder — more blood means more milk. Research conducted at the University of Lincoln, Nebraska, has concluded that cows that produce the most milk rest for over 2 hours longer than the average cow.  

The cows that have less flexible, uncomfortable stalls spend more time standing — which means less time lying down, which in turn means less milk. In fact, it’s estimated that every additional hour that a cow spends resting means up to 3.5lbs more milk.  

From the perspective of profits and milk production, there’s a sizable payoff to installing proper stalls that provide straightforward maintenance and ensure cow welfare.  

Bedding Quality

Stall usage and cow lying times are also affected by the bedding quality inside the stalls. Uncomfortable stall surfaces also negatively impact lying times. Ideally, the stall bed would conform to the shape of the cow, provide cushioning as the cow lies down and gets up, and maintain traction, which reduces slipping that could cause injuries. Furthermore, dry bedding is necessary to promote udder health and minimize bacterial growth.  

Insufficient bedding and an overly hard surface routinely cause hock injuries — while adequate bedding minimizes friction between the stall surface and the hock.  

All things considered, it’s clear that dairy cows prefer a dry, comfortable lying surface beneath flexible, spacious stalls. If the bedding is wet and otherwise inadequate, they spend more time outside the stall — which means less resting time, worse rumination, a lower degree of cow health and, ultimately, value for the farmer.  

Wrapping Up 

The main takeaway here is that proper stalls allow cows to lay properly — and for adequate amounts of time. When they do, they have fewer injuries, are less dirty, and are always in show condition, keeping them at their maximum value.  

If you decide to improve your cow’s health by opting for proper stalls, contact us about our hybrid stalls— they provide both the strength of steel and the comfort of flexible stabling.