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How can we improve the comfort of a cow’s bed?

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

#CowConfort #Tiestall #CowWelfare #AnimalScience #McGill



Our latest stall modification project has just wrapped up at the barn! Following projects investigating stall width, chain length, and tie-rail placement, this project investigated how we can improve the overall comfort of the cow’s bed. To do this, we looked at three different aspects of stall design: manger wall height, stall length, and bedding type.




In a tie-stall, the manger wall is the front limit of the stall and separates the stall bed from the manger.






We tested out two different manger wall heights: the current Dairy Code of Practise recommendation of 20 cm and a reduced height of 5 cm. The goal was to have a 0 cm manger wall, but we were limited by the facilities available. Our hypothesis is that the reduced manger height will allow the cow a greater ease of movement and make the stall more comfortable for her while resting.



Stall length is the length of the stall from the base of the manger wall to the end near the gutter.







The recommendation from the Dairy Code of Practise for stall length is more complicated than manger wall height as it is based on the average cow height on a farm. We tested out two different stall lengths.


Our shorter stall length is 178 cm (70 inches), which is slightly smaller than the 183 cm (72 inches) recommended for our group of cows, but mimics what is commonly found on farm in Quebec and Ontario. Our longer stall length is 188 cm (74 inches). Our hypothesis is that the longer stalls will allow for an increased ease of movement and comfort. By looking at the combination of stall length and manger wall height, we also want to determine if a reduced manger wall height will help ameliorate the effects of a shorter stall. This information may be useful for tie-stall producers who can more easily modify their manger wall heights rather than the length of their stalls.



Stall length is the length of the stall from the base of the manger wall to the end near the gutter. The recommendation from the Dairy Code of Practise for stall length is more complicated than manger wall height as it is based on the average cow height on a farm.





We tested out two different stall lengths. Our shorter stall length is 178 cm (70 inches), which is slightly smaller than the 183 cm (72 inches) recommended for our group of cows, but mimics what is commonly found on farm in Quebec and Ontario. Our longer stall length is 188 cm (74 inches). Our hypothesis is that the longer stalls will allow for an increased ease of movement and comfort.



By looking at the combination of stall length and manger wall height, we also want to determine if a reduced manger wall height will help ameliorate the effects of a shorter stall. This information may be useful for tie-stall producers who can more easily modify their manger wall heights rather than the length of their stalls.


To reduce the manger wall height without permanently damaging the existing stalls, we had to raise the floor of the stall up 3 inches. Our solution was to test out a 3-inch-deep straw bedding mat, which was kept in place with a bedding keeper. The bedding keeper that we used was a metal pipe that was secured to the end of the stall. By placing the bedding keeper in different positions, we were also able to easily modify the length of the stalls. As a result of the increase in height of the stall bed, we also had to raise the manger up 3 inches. This led to creation of raised manger platforms. The tie rail and water bowls were also raised accordingly. The three-inch bedding mat of straw will be quite different to the rubber mat and shavings used elsewhere in the barn, so we are excited to see if the straw makes any difference in the cows’ injury levels.



The experimental portion of this project started in January with a pilot project. As we had to modify several aspects of the stalls in the research barn, we had to test them out. Two stalls were modified to include the bedding keeper, straw bedding, and raised manger platform. One of each of the two manger heights was tested. Our experience with the pilot project enabled us to better plan a management strategy for the full trial and allowed us to learn how best to manage the straw bedding. It also gave our contractor a chance to test out the stall modifications and see what worked and what didn’t!


Sarah testing the bedding ;)


The full trial ran for 14 weeks from the start of March to the beginning of June and involved 24 cows. We are excited to start getting results from the trial, so stay tuned!

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