Cubicle Box

There are many different stall designs, most of which will work well. It is very important to observe the cows’ reactions to stalls. Don’t just get out the tape measure, watch cows get up and down in the stalls, especially the largest cows.

stalls

Cows in a stall should rise to stand as they would outside on pasture. Cows need to bob their heads down and forward so that they can shift their weight from their back legs when they stand. In a stall, cows can either bob forward or to the side. It is difficult to give specific measurements for cubicles because of the size differences between dairy breeds and cows have also grown over the last 10 to 20 years. It is normally recommended that cows have at least 47cm of head space and 168crn of space for their body. On top of that, lunge space must be provided (at least 30cm). Therefore, the stall should be 245cm long unless cows are able to lunge forward into the space beyond the stall — such as into an opposite cow stall, alley or outside of the barn. If a stall is barely 215cm in total length, it must allow the cow to lunge sideways as she gets up. Bending the bottom of the stall loop out of the cow’s way (either higher or lower) will allow cows to lunge sideways. Install a brisket board on the stall floor.

Brisket boards should be 168cm from the stall curb and 15-20cm high with a 60 degree angle. They help prevent the cow from crowding to the front of the stall, brace her as she gets up and keeps the stall cleaner. The cubicle base should drop by 10 cm from front to rear to help drain­age, and should have a step of no more than approximately 18 — 20 cm down into the alleyway. This gives a slope of around 4% to the cubicle box. If the step is too low, the cubicles are more likely to become soiled or contaminated, particularly with the flushing systems used on large farms in the US.

Problems occur most often on farms that use old buildings to house their cows, or those that increase their herd size or continue to breed larger cows for higher production but never change the size of the stalls.

Uncomfortable stalls or bed surfaces are likely to result in less frequent or shorter resting periods and increased standing time on hard surfaces. As shown in a study by Galindo and Broom (2000), this alters cows’ natural behaviour cycles and overburdens their claws, potentially increasing structural hoof damage and making them more susceptible to sole, inter digital and heel lesions. If beds are uncomfortable, a cow may choose to lie in the alley way, exposing her to the risk of bacterial infection and mastitis. Stalls should be comfortable enough to encourage cows to lie down there rather than somewhere else.

If stalls are too small or the wrong shape, preventing cows from rising comfortably, they will delay trying to rise through fear of hurting themselves on a neck rail or by not having enough space to lunge using their head as a balance. These cows are therefore inclined to lie  too long, eat and drink less, go to the feed area less frequently and consequently consume less dry matter. This leads to a yo-yo feed intake pattern where individual meals are fewer but larger and cows will probably produce less milk. This can be associated with an increased risk of laminitis; to avoid this, cows should eat small meals often.

Other common problems with stalls that are the wrong shape, too small or have protruding curbs, are injuries and abrasions to the inside (or medial) of the hocks. If these are continually banged or rubbed on the curb, hair loss, open sores, swelling and infection can occur, often resulting in lameness. Use of bedding often helps to prevent this but it should be of good quality and regularly changed or cleaned.

Bed surface and bedding material

bedding

There are several critical factors that must be considered when planning free stall surfaces. The surface must be durable and easily maintained, it must be well drained and/or resilient to water, It should not be slippery and should give secure footing to prevent potential injuries. The flooring should be soft and comfortable rather than hard, cold and damp. The surface should be made of inert material so pathogenic organisms will not grow. The cog of the surface has to be considered relative to its potential for reducing or increasing animal injuries.

There are various recommendations for tied-up and loose housing systems. The main one is that the cow stands and lies down on the same flooring. For this reason, cow mat solutions for tied-up systems should provide soft bedding and support solid standing.

A hard or uncomfortable bed surface is detrimental for cow lying and rising behaviour; lame cows are especially sensitive to the material used as it can hinder their ability to do so. They will avoid lying and rising if their bed is hard because it is painful. Cook (2004; 2006) demonstrated this in studies where the use of sand particularly benefited mildly lame cows, rather than unyielding harder surfaces, due to its ability to supply cushion and traction that allowed the cows to rise and lie down more easily without fear of slipping. Cook therefore recommends the use of sand to improve stall use and thereby promote resting time and good claw health. The most common bedding materials worldwide are sand, straw, sawdust and lime. Research shows that cows prefer sand for lying down in the stalls, but mattresses are close behind. If switching over to sand bedding, please bear in mind that all manure handling equipment needs to be adjusted for sand, because sand and manure should be separated. The main disadvantages of sand are cost and availability. Sand is more expensive than other materials and is not available in all regions.

Organic bedding materials contain carbon, which is food for bacteria (including those of infectious hoof diseases). But carbon is not sufficient to support bacteria growth by itself. Bacteria also need warm temperatures (close to body temperature) and moisture (from leaking milk, urine, manure or wet feet). If one of these conditions isn’t available, bacterial growth will be limited. As we can’t control either of these conditions, bedding treatment can be used to inhibit bacterial growth and prevent transmission of infectious hoof diseases. Cow mattresses are a good bedding type for barns. Try to use adequate straw, sawdust or hygienic bedding material. This will keep the bedding clean and dry, depress bacterial growth and keep the cows clean for easier milking.

Cubicle assessment

It is possible to assess cubicle design on four critical points as described by Nordlund and Cook (2003). These are adequate surface cushion, adequate body resting space, lunge room for head thrust and an unobstructed bob zone, and adequate height below and behind the neck rail. Its also important to remember that stalls can have multiple problems and may not only be affected by only one factor.

Bedding treatment

beddingtreatment

A Bedding treatment can be added to the rear third of the cubicle to help to absorb moisture on the bed as well as the hooves. If it is slip-resistant, it can also serve as grip for rising or lying, which is particularly useful for lame cows.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK