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Cow comfort: Creating an environment for healthy, productive cows

January 11, 2017

When you go out to your dairy, stop, look and listen to your cows. There are clear cues as to their comfort, and they can tell you if something is wrong with their environment.

Three elements of a productive cow’s environment

The freestall:

  • Brisket locator: The brisket locator’s purpose is to comfortably position the cow to lie down in the stall. Without the brisket locator or enough sand, the cow can become positioned too far forward in the stall, which can cause injury and deposit manure in the back of the stall rather than the alley. When I see manure on either side of a stall instead of directly behind it, it tells me the cows are angling themselves and trying to adapt to a stall that has not been adjusted properly.
  • Neck rail: The purpose of the neck rail is to position the cow so that when she stands up, she backs up a few inches to defecate in the alley. 
  • Deterrent strap: It should be a nylon strap, 4–6 inches wide. It should deter the cows but not injure them. A cable should not be used, as it can cause significant injury.
  • Stall size: Many barns still have stalls that were manufactured in the 1990s. Today, we have larger animals that require larger stalls. We need to set our stall measurements based on the size of our cows, and it needs to be one cow per stall. We want the cows to have ample room to lie down and achieve optimal blood flow. If a cow does not have enough room, she may perch in the alley, and that’s where we can see an increase in hoof rot. Even a few inches of space can make a major difference in hoof condition and milk production.
  • Sand: Sand needs to be clean and dry. 


Milk is 87 percent water, making it critical that cows always have plenty of access to warm water. But how often are you cleaning and scrubbing your water troughs? It should be done every day or every other day and be clean enough that you would be willing to drink from the troughs.


When cows are done milking, they should come back to fresh feed so that they stand for 20 minutes before lying down. Likewise, dry cows must have ample access to feed.

Little issues affect milk quality, yield and the longevity of your cows. Focus on “cowsistency,” and your cows will reward you.

Tom highlighted these points among others during his recent Dairy Strong webinar, “Cows don’t lie,” which can be viewed on YouTube.

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