The surface we provide for cows is one of the most important factors in designing a suitable lying area. Cows prefer softer lying surfaces with ample bedding. Well-bedded stalls increase lying time, prevent hock injuries, and reduce the risk of lameness. Too often poor design leads to preventable health problems.
Bedding levels in deep-bedded stalls decrease over days, and lying time declines as the stall empties. Every inch decline decreased lying time by about half an hour per day. Lesions on the point of the hock are common in deep-bedded stalls, likely due to contact with the concrete curb when stalls are not well maintained.
Overcrowding Free Stalls
Cows spend about half of their time lying down, so it stands to reason that we can keep more cows in a pen than there are lying stalls, right? Wrong. Lying time is highly synchronized, meaning that cows like to lie down at similar times of the day. The result is more competition for stalls and reduced lying time when cows are overstocked.
According to popular thinking, when cows are not in the parlor they should be eating or lying down. Even when cows have access to well-designed stalls they spend only about half of their time lying down. We need to take this into account in designing suitable housing.
The majority of cows in free stall housing now spend most of their time standing or walking on concrete floors, and the use of concrete floors has been identified as a risk factor for increased claw lesions and lameness due to poor drainage. This may explain why lameness and claw lesions are more common in free stall systems, especially when cows have no access to the outdoors.
Cows prefer to stand on softer surfaces, especially when they are lame. The use of well-designed rubber flooring can reduce the risk of lameness. Cows will benefit most from comfortable flooring in those areas where they spend the most time standing, such as in the holding area for the milking parlor.
The physical design of the feeding area can also influence feeding behavior. Feed barriers that provide separation between animals, such as headlocks, reduce competition among cows. One proven approach is the use of feeding stalls. Feed stalls prevent competition, and can include soft, dry standing surfaces benefiting cow comfort and hoof health.
Cows are motivated to feed by the delivery of fresh TMR and also by the return from milking. Providing fresh feed more frequently can reduce competition for feed and feed sorting.