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C.O.W.S. - Well-Being

W is for Well-Being

Improve performance by improving well-being.

Lameness, lying time and management are key issues that impact an animal's well-being. This program is aimed at providing feedback to dairy farmers that will identify opportunities for improvement. To do so, we measure stall dimension, lameness, and lying time to compare the herd to the average, which allows producers to pinpoint areas where their herds excel and where there are opportunities for improvement



Risk factors for lameness include:

  • Standing on concrete, especially when wet or rough
  • Infrequent or poor hoof trimming
  • Poorly designed or inadequately bedded stalls
  • Bacteria in the slurry (such as those that cause digital dermatitis)
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Physical hazards
  • Unsuitable management of transition cows
  • Unbalanced genetic selection (corkscrew claw)

Lameness Prevention

Good record keeping of lameness and hoof injuries is critical.Regular gait scoring can help producers monitor the extent of the problem in their herd.Recording the occurance of lameness will also help provide clues as to the underlying cause.Examples of management practices that decrease the risk of lameness include:

  1. Do not overstock at the feed bunk or lying stalls, especially during transition, as this can increase the time cows spend standing.
  2. Provide a comfortable lying surface, such as copius, dry bedding.
  3. Provide a comfortable standing surface that reduces exposure to slurry and wet concrete. Free stalls can be configured to allow cows to stand fully in the stall by simply moving the neck rail higher or further from the curb.
  4. Develop a lameness prevention strategy including input from your veterinarian, nutritionist and hoof trimmer.

Measuring Lameness

To determine the rate of lameness among the herd, all cows in the assessment pen are gait scored as they exit the parlor after milking. We use a 5-point scale.

  1. "Sound" Walks with a smooth and fluid locomotion, a flat back and even steps.
  2. "Imperfect Gait" Walks with a slightly uneven gait and slight joint stiffness but with no limp.
  3. "Mildly Lame" Walks with shortened strides, an arched back and a slight limp.
  4. "Moderately Lame" Walks with an obvious limp, a severely arched back and a jerky head bob.
  5. "Severely Lame" Limping on at least one limb and/or must be vigorously encouraged to stand or move. Extremely arched back when standing and walking.


Facility Design

Stall partitions

Typically, the free stall is designed to encourage the cow to lie down in a specific location and to use the stall in such a way that manure does not soil the stall. Unfortunately, the more restrictive the free stall becomes, the less comfortable it is for the cow.Cows prefer wider (46 - 50 inches) stalls, likely because they have less contact with the partitions. Cows also spend more time standing with all four legs in the wider stalls, reducing the time they spend perching and standing fully on concrete flooring typically found elsewhere in the barn.

Removing the neck rail, or moving it higher (50 inches) and further from the curb (70 - 75 inches) increases the time cows spend standing fully inside the stall and reduces the risk of lameness.

Stalls should provide a clean, comfortable area for cows to lie down.However, stall cleanliness alone is a poor measure of stall design. Free stalls that are more comfortable have higher occupancy rates and are therefore more likely to contain feces. Thus, well-used stalls require more stall maintenance, just like other equipment used on the farm.

Stall layout

Stall use can also be affected by stall layout. Some stalls, particularly those farther from the feed bunk and on the periphery, are less desirable to cows, perhaps because cows need to walk farther or because they have to navigate past certain physical (e.g. narrow alleys) or social (e.g. dominant cows) obstacles on their way to the more distant stalls. What looks like a 1:1 cow-to-stall stocking density may seem considerably worse to the cows if some stalls are unacceptable.

Feeding area

Cows need space at the feed bunk. Overcrowding at the feeder increases competition and reduces the time that cows spend feeding. These effects are greatest for subordinate cows, including cows that are lame or feeling ill. A minimum of 24 inches of space per cow is recommended.This value should be increased to at least 30 inches during the transition period and in the sick pen. Overstocking at the feed bunk can also increase the time cows spend standing on concrete waiting to access to feed.


Want to Know More?

Contact Us

Novus Dairy
Phone: 314-576-8886
Email: contact.usa@novusint.com