Freestall Systems

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Freestall Overview and cow behaviour:

A well-managed and designed Freestall barn can support high levels of milk production and animal well-being. The purpose of the Redpath Freestall barn is to provide the cows with a comfortable, clean, dry resting area within the Freestall area.  The Freestall is designed to allow the cow to enter and exit the stall using a natural reclining, resting, and rising motion ideally without overly striking the stall structure itself. Well-designed Freestalls present minimal opportunity for injury, and promote more time for lying / resting.

Lying behaviour in the Redpath Freestall barn will play a critical role in the production, profitability, and wellbeing of dairy cows. The amount of time a cow spends lying is influenced by factors such as the stall and barn design, its management, and the cow's physiological status. Research suggests that the ideal length of lying time may be as much as 12-14 hours per day, based upon the behaviour observed in high-producing cows.

Increasing lying time may increase rumination, improve immune status, increase blood flow to the mammary system, reduce stress on the hoof, and reduce the incidence of lameness in a herd.

Cows will strive to attain a fixed amount of lying time even at the expense of feeding time, and thus it is best to ensure that cows have the opportunity to fulfil their lying time requirements when in the Redpath Freestall barn.

Often, dairy farmers wonder why their cows do not spend as much time lying in their Freestalls as they should. This situation is particularly problematic if the cows choose to lie in the manure-covered hard alleys of the barn.

One option is to connect a Redpath deep-litter loafing area directly to the Freestalls structure so that cows may walk through to and loafing area for relief from potential Freestall boredom and constriction. see here

A comfortable, well-designed Freestall however will have cows spending most of their time lying or standing straight (parallel to the length of the stall)

Continuous monitoring of stall use and cow behaviour while getting into and out of stalls is essential for assessing cow comfort. By understanding what behaviours to look for, you can learn what minor adjustments need to be made to the standard recommendations to best fit the needs of cows in your facilities. Watch the cows as they lie in the stalls. Think about how a cow gets up when she is on pasture. Space is needed to accommodate the normal rising motion of a dairy cow.

Management observations:

Do the cows enter the stalls with ease and with minimal hesitation? Do they come into contact with any part of the stall while lying down? Watch cows as they rise from a resting position. Do they come into contact with any part of the stall while getting up? Is there adequate lunge space for their heads as they rise? Do you see any potential for injury as the cows get into and out of stalls? Do cows spend considerable time standing in the stall, showing hesitation, before lying down in the stall? Do they push their nose or mouth against pipes or stall structures? Do cows stand in the Freestall, swinging their heads to the left and right?  Once cows are lying, do they appear calm or restless?

Finally, spend some time focusing on cows’ hocks, knees, and rumps. Do you see any evidence of injury, abrasions, abscesses, bumps, or bruises that may have resulted from getting into and out of the Freestalls? If you stand in front of the stall and drop to your knees, is it a painful process? If so, how do you think this “knee test” reflects the cow’s experience in using the stall? Your observations may indicate that potential improvements can be made through Freestall modifications of the adjustable Redpath hoops.

Forward lunge space is often blocked by walls or boards placed in front of the cow’s resting space.

Generally, cows prefer to lunge forward when rising from a resting position, and when obstructions are placed in front of the cows, there is no room for their heads to move in this natural rising motion. When cows cannot lunge forward, they may have difficulty rising from stalls or may even become trapped against the wall while rising. Standing or lying diagonally in the stalls may also be a sign of cows searching for a way to preserve forward lunge space. Dog-sitting, where cows sit like dogs with weight placed on the rear end of their body and their front legs extended, may indicate a lack of lunge space

Stall dimensions

The Redpath Freestall system allows you to adjust the width of the Freestall hoop to suit your herd size and needs.  Redpath suggests that you select Freestall dimensions for the largest cows in your herd. However large differences in cow size will Varying cow sizes may require varying stall sizes where a "one-size-fits-all approach"  may not be conducive to optimal cow comfort.

When possible, first lactation cows might be best to be provided a separate pen with smaller Freestalls to accommodate their smaller frame size

Too narrow stalls may have the cows invading the space of adjacent stalls. Stalls that are too narrow are often characterized by excessive body contact with the stall divider while lying down and rising from the stall Cows may also not use stalls well, and they may lie diagonally.  Cows may spend more time "perching" in overly narrowest Freestalls, whilst wider stalls tended to be dirtier. The suggestion is to increase the width of the stalls to accommodate your largest cows.

Stalls must be long enough to allow cows to lunge forward when rising from the stall. Cows prefer to lunge forward rather than to lunge to the side. To provide the cow with adequate forward lunge space, allow up to 700mm + of space ahead of where their front knee is positioned while resting. Too shorter stalls will have the cow’s rear end hangs over the edge of the curb.  Short stalls may also cause poor stall usage. Cows may exhibit diagonal standing, lying, and rising as well as perching.

Each Freestall should provide enough space for the cow to rest with additional space allotted for lunging and bobbing while the cow is getting up. For large frame cows, the required space is a total length of about 2.4 - 2.6m.


1) Frequent stall grooming can have a dramatic impact on stall usage and cow cleanliness.
2) Cow cleanliness problems can often be attributed to infrequent or inadequate removal of manure and urine from Freestall alleys.
3) When cows are not provided with a comfortable place to rest, Hock injuries are commonly observed in situations where cows are forced to lie on a hard surface or when insufficient bedding is provided, so keep bedding clean and plentiful.

The worst scenario is when cows are lying on concrete without any bedding. Providing a comfortable, soft surface cushion may be the most important factor affecting stall usage and lying time. An ideal stall bed conforms to the cow’s shape, provides cushion while the cow is getting up and lying down, maintains effective traction to minimize slipping, and remains dry to minimize bacterial growth and promote optimal udder health. Many different combinations of stall bases and bedding types can be effective; however, sand bedding generally meets the cows’ needs and is readily available and affordable.

Keeping sand filled to the top of the curb increases stall use. Note that in deep-bedded stalls, cows may dig out the bedding and reduce their resting area if bedding is not replaced. Over time, cows may drag sand out of stalls and will need to be replaced frequently to maintain a comfortable resting area.

Kerbing Heights

If the curb height is too high, cows may be reluctant to use the stalls or hesitant and uneasy when exiting the stalls. This problem may be more evident in lame cows than in non-lame cows. With high curb heights, some cows may drag their teats and udders on the curb or bed when entering the stall. If the curb height is too low, manure from the alley may be pushed into the stalls during scraping or may be tracked into the stall by cows. In addition, cows may back into stalls and lie facing outward.

The primary purpose of the curb is to keep manure from the alley from entering the back of the stall. When a cow places her rear leg on the concrete alley behind the stall, a tremendous amount of weight must be supported by that leg. Thus, the curb height plays a critical role in minimizing this stressful process. The ideal curb height is typical around 165 -200mm although curb heights up to 300mm might be tolerated.

Good ventilation

Ventilation is required to avoid cows expressing obvious signs of heat stress (i.e. panting) during warmer temperatures, leading to respiratory problems. Redpath Freestall barns promote generous cross-building air flow via sidewalls, and the span of the Redpath building at 10.65m is designed with this specifically in mind. Also with the optional roof ventilation system fitted this will maintain ideal optimum internal temperatures for the cows via Redpath fully automatic environmental controller and motor drives that directly control the roof vents.

For optimal production and wellbeing, dairy cows should be provided with a constant supply of fresh, clean air. Frequently exchanging air removes or reduces the concentrations of dust, gases, odours, airborne disease organisms, and moisture. Maximizing natural ventilation is the first step toward improving ventilation. Natural ventilation relies on barn openings and orientation to remove heat and humidity from the animal’s environment. Exhausted air generally leaves the barn through sidewalls or ridge openings. Sidewalls allow for air, heat and humidity to be easily and continuously removed from the barn, which is particularly critical during the summer.

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