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The Use of Tie Stalls and Stanchions as a Means of Restraint for Dairy Cattle

| 2/27/2017 8:58:00 AM


Sometimes things that appear to make sense to the uninformed eye make no sense to experienced eyes.  For example, the three major Farm Animal Welfare groups in the US including American Humane Certified, Certified Humane Program, Animal Welfare Approved and "Certified Organic – USDA Agricultural Marketing Service" prohibit the use of tie stalls (and stanchions) for dairy cattle with no exceptions or conditions.  I have been involved in the dairy industry for over 50 years and have owned and managed several dairy farms.  My emphasis has always been on humane cow care, cleanliness and comfort.  Through the years, I have seen some fairly horrible and inhumane dairy cattle housing.  I have also seen the best housing when it comes to cow comfort and cleanliness.

In the 1960s I worked on a traditional 40-cow Jersey farm where he cows were housed in stanchions when in the barn.  I completely agree with prohibiting stanchions in barns where the cows sleep or are kept inside more than they are let out in paddocks or on pasture.  Why, because most old-fashioned wooden and steel stanchions do not give the cows the freedom of movement required to groom themselves or turn their heads when they lie down and sleep.  They also severely restrict a cow's ability to stand up from a lying or sleeping position because the bottom of the stanchion is attached to the curb and only has limited travel.  When cows get up they lunge forward and get up on their hind feet first and then get up on their front feet.  Cows restrained in stanchions can find it very difficult to get up from a lying position without bruising their shoulders because of the lunge.  Some cows (too many) have died from exhaustion trying to get up in stanchions. 

On the contrary properly secured stanchions (used as headlocks) can be an inexpensive and easy way to secure cow for milking, grooming, breeding or for medical procedures as long as the cow doesn't have to get up from a lying position while secured in a stanchion.  In those cases and with those restrictions, stanchions should be allowed as a temporary restraint for dairy cattle (headlocks).

Properly designed tie stalls are a completely different form of restraint for dairy cattle.  There are several designs for tie stalls including "comfort stalls" and New York tie stalls that give a cow plenty of room to groom herself and the lay down and get back up.   The major considerations for any tie stall are the height and placement of the curb and neck rail and the footing on the floor or tread of the stall.  Ideally tie stalls are equipped with mattresses, mats or other padding that gives the cows slip free footing and a generous cushion for when they are lying down.  If the treads are concrete you can cover them with bedding such as saw dust but that isn't 100% effective and it can be very expensive.  Good mattresses or mats can save a lot of money that otherwise would be spent on bedding and vet bills for swollen hock joints and stepped on teats.   Concrete can also become slick and slippery for cows entering the stall.  Cows do not like slippery footing and if they slip entering a stall they may not be willing to enter it again, especially if they have to cross a gutter.  Cows also need good traction for their rear feet when they stand up.  If a cow’s hind hooves slip while standing up she may panic and injure herself or a cow beside her.  Putting a little granulated or pulverized lime down on the tread can help provide traction.  But thick and securely attached mats and mattresses provide the best traction.

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