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Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
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Title: Designing for Cow Comfort in Tie Stall Barns


Agriculture and Rural
History: Original Factsheet
Written by: Harold House - Engineer (Dairy)/OMAF; Jack Rodenburg - Dairy Systems Lead/OMAF; Neil Anderson - Veterinary Scientist (Cattle)/OMAF

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Stall Design
  3. Base and Bedding
  4. Feeding and Watering
  5. Miscellaneous
  6. Summary


Dairy producers know that comfortable cows give more milk. That is why they are designing and building barns for the comfort of their cows. Cow comfort also affects the health of feet and legs, udders and teats, eating habits, feed intake, fertility, and longevity. Many simple things related to the cow's stall, feed manger, and floor surface determine the level of comfort the cow will experience.

This Factsheet describes the factors to look for when considering cow comfort in your tie stall barn. Stall design, choice of base and bedding material, feeding areas, and flooring will be discussed.

Figure 1.  Tie stalls should be designed for the comfort of the cow.

Figure 1.  Tie stalls should be designed for the comfort of the cow.

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Stall Design

In the stall, your cow needs enough space to rise, rest and lie. When a cow rises in a natural way, such as on pasture, she lunges forward, shifting her weight, and allowing her hindquarters to be raised more easily. The stall must allow the cow to lunge forward as she rises. While lying, the cow needs enough space to lay comfortably without being restricted or injured by the partitions. The correct length and width of the stall will ensure cows don't lie sideways or dirty the stalls with manure.

When a cow lays down, she free-falls the last foot or so. The size of stall, the type of partition, and the cushioning provided by the base are important to avoid injury to the knees, hips or stifles.


The most desirable partition styles are those that provide space at the front for the cow to lunge forward when rising. Neither stanchions nor "comfort stalls" with low arch chain ties provide adequate freedom for lunging forward while rising. In "comfort stalls" there is inadequate space for the shoulders. In stanchions the short bottom chains restrict forward movement.

Lengthening the chain is ineffective as it may cause the cows' legs to become trapped or tangled. Only the single head rail tie stall, with a 14 - 16" chain tied to a neck chain or strap, provides for natural rising of the tied cow.

Dividers encourage cows to lie straight. Traditional dividers have a post which extends into the platform. This interferes with the rear legs of the cow and leads to bumping when the cow lies down.

Suspended or cantilever dividers don't have this post. They are the most suitable for the installation and maintenance of new base and bedding concepts (e.g., mattresses). Position of the head rail, height and shape of the front curb, slope on the stall, and stall size are shown in Figure 2. All contribute to cow comfort.

Figure 2.  Stall size, partition shape, and base design are all important features for the comfort of the cow.

Figure 2.  Stall size, partition shape, and base design are all important features for the comfort of the cow.


Length and Width

Many producers prefer to have stalls with several different lengths and widths to accommodate cows of different sizes in the herd. The number of different stalls and sizes will depend on the herd size. One way of achieving different stall lengths is to taper the length down a row of stalls. For instance in a two row barn, the length at one end of the row may be 65" and at the other may be 68". Then the length on the second row may go from 68" to 72". Stall size recommendations for tie stalls appear in Table 1.

After selecting the size of the stall and the partition style, a number of other items can be used to keep the cow clean and comfortable.

Table 1. Dimensions for Tie Stalls
kg lbs mm in. mm in.
400 880 1050 41 1450 57
500 1100 1150 45 1550 61
600 1320 1250 49 1650 65
700 1540 1350 53 1750 69
800 1760 1450 57 1850 73
 * Length is with use of cow trainers. If no trainers are used decrease stall
length by 100 mm (4 in.).

Electric Cow Trainers

Cow trainers suspended 2 - 5" above the cows' back and 6" behind the point of the shoulder will position cows to defecate and urinate in the gutter. Trainers are also helpful in keeping cows clean and dry. However, improperly positioned trainers are associated with more teat injuries and impaired reproductive performance.

Longitudinal Stall Slope

A gradual slope from the front to the rear of the stall provides drainage and helps position the cow toward the rear of the stall. Dairy cows prefer to lie with their front slightly elevated and are reluctant to use stalls that slope from back to front. A longitudinal slope of 2 to 3 percent is recommended. It is difficult to keep large amounts of bedding in stalls with slopes greater than 3 percent.

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Base and Bedding


Cows receive injuries to hocks and knees from lying on hard surfaces. Cushion the stall platform with 3 to 4 inches of straw, sawdust or shavings to prevent these injuries. This amount of bedding is difficult to provide consistently. Maintaining a uniform layer of bedding is labour intensive and bedding materials are expensive. Also this amount of bedding may not be compatible with the existing manure system.


Cow mattresses provide an excellent alternative to traditional bedding. Cows also need traction when rising. Without it, they kick out the bedding, slip, fall and injure their legs or teats. Cow mattresses can provide this extra traction.

The cow mattress consists of a filler material to provide comfort. It is covered or encased in a fabric layer for integrity. Although straw and sawdust have been used as filler materials in the past, the most common material in use today is shredded rubber from recycled car tires. This material is an ideal filler for cow mattresses because of its resiliency, low cost and availability.

Design and management of the mattress are similar in tie stalls and free stalls. Because cows spend more time standing in the same place commercial mattresses with pre-sown tubes are preferable to systems with loose rubber fill, which will tend to shift. Also more durable cover materials are recommended in tie stalls.


As well as cow mattresses, new types of synthetic rubber cow mats are also being used. They provide more cushioning, comfort and traction than conventional hard rubber mats. A tendency for these materials to stretch presents an installation and maintenance challenge in most applications.

With all mats and mattresses, a small amount of bedding on top of the fabric is necessary. It keeps the stall dry, and reduces abrasions to hocks and knees.


Sand is another option that creates a lot of interest as a bedding material. Using 6 - 10" of sand over a clay or concrete base, often embedded with rubber tires, is a popular base for free stalls and can be applied to tie stalls as well. Tie stalls have been retrofitted to use sand bedding by attaching a 3" plastic pipe as a bedding keeper at the rear of the stall.

Dairy producers choose sand bedding because it provides a high level of comfort, and contributes to fewer injuries and excellent udder health. A bevelled curb at the front and rear of the stall retains the sand. Cows will kick out 30 - 50 lbs per stall daily.

Disadvantages of the system include the labour of handling sand, cost, and the problems of dealing with sand laden manure. Technology to separate and recycle sand is being developed but is costly.

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Feeding and Watering


Providing a comfortable eating position for your cow should increase feed intake. When grazing, a cow will stand with her forelegs apart with one foot in front of the other. This stance lowers her shoulders, neck and head to a comfortable eating position. Since this position may be difficult to achieve, the manger surface should be 4" higher than the cow platform. If mattresses are retrofitted in old barns, mangers often end up too low, and will require work to raise and refinish.

Manger surfaces should be smooth and easy to clean. Ceramic tiles are effective, but pre-formed tile manger sections with very few grout lines are preferred to bathroom tiles. These are less slippery, reducing risk of injury to farm workers. Most applied surfaces, such as epoxy coatings, have not stood up well despite high cost. Newer concrete surfacing agents applied to wet high strength concrete can create a very durable manger surface at less cost than ceramic tile. Also, there should be no bolts or sharp metal objects to irritate cows as they eat.

Water Bowls

Locating water bowls 14 - 22" high above the manger prevents water spills in the bedding and are readily accessible to cows. The bowls must be positioned so the partitions do not restrict access to the bowl.

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There may be other hazards lurking in dairy barns. Wood or metal protrusions may injure cows. Accumulations of hair may suggest that cows are scraping themselves at that spot. Another item to be aware of is stray voltage. Canada Plan Service leaflet 9611 provides more information on dealing with stray voltage problems.

Floor surfaces need to have a finish rough enough to provide traction for the cow as she walks but smooth enough to clean properly. There is a fine balance between traction and cleanability. Concrete floors can become too smooth from repeated scraping for manure removal. Traction on slippery floors improves after saw-cutting grooves into the floor. Another method is to grind off the surface. Alternatively, some producers are using rubber mats on alleys and walkways.

The ventilation of the barn will also have an effect on the comfort of the cow. Proper ventilation leads to a drier environment within the barn. This drier environment contributes to fewer environmental bacteria growing in bedding, reduced risk of disease, and improved cow health.

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Careful observation will tell you if your cows are comfortable. During a quiet time in the barn, look to see how many cows are laying down versus standing in the stalls, and how many are chewing their cud. If the majority are not resting comfortably in the stalls, look for reasons. Look for obvious signs of discomfort like injured feet and legs. Measure your stall characteristics (see Figure 3) and compare them to the guideline measurements. If necessary, make changes. Your reward will be fewer injuries, cleaner cows, less involuntary culling and improved performance.

Figure 3.  Sketch your stall characteristics to compare them with the guidelines for improved cow comfort.

Figure 3.  Sketch your stall characteristics to compare them with the guidelines for improved cow comfort.

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For more information:
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Local: (519) 826-4047

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