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  • Sizing Holstein Cows
    By Dr. Neil Anderson - Veterinary Science, OMAF

    Resting, standing, and perching (standing with two feet in the stall) behaviour are of interest because of an association between uncomfortable stalls or dominance behaviour and increased standing time and lameness (Leonard 1994, Galindo, 2000).

    The mismatching of cow dimensions and stall dimensions could contribute to the contrariness of cows to appropriate stall use. For example, nose-to-tail length and head-lunging space would be essential measurements for sizing stalls for forward lunging. Although producers often comment that cows are getting bigger, dimensions for modern dairy cows are not easy to find.

    Current North American extension publications show cow weight and recommended stall dimensions. However, the publications show neither cow dimensions nor space requirements for normal standing, resting, rising or lying behaviour. However, there are several choices of dimensions for cows of a specific weight. Moreover, the choice of stall size must be made on faith because there are neither performance data for the stalls nor audit reports for appropriateness of fit. To use the tables in extension publications, one must know cow weights.

    Weights from an Ontario farm. The variation of cow weights within a herd and within age groups is apparent in the data from an Ontario herd. While on feeding trials in 2002, researchers weighed 87 Holstein cows, four to seven times during their lactation. This yielded 448 weights to describe the weight distribution for cows in the herd. Thirty-one, 27, 13, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 cows were in Lactation 1 to 8, respectively. As expected, weight changed by stage of lactation. The median weight was 1448 lb. - half the weights were greater and half less than the median weight, and the 3rd quartile was 1560 lbs. The median weight for Lactation 1 cows was about 1350 lbs. and the weights ranged from 1000 to 1800 lbs. By 200 days in milk, the Lactation 1 cows weighed greater than 1400 lb. The 3rd quartile weight was 1430 lbs. for Lactation 1 cows. The median weight for the mature cows was 1540 lbs. and the weights ranged from 1200 to 1900 lbs. Their 3rd quartile weight was about 1600 lbs. Does weight provide enough information for sizing stalls?

    An audit in the United Kingdom. A recent report of space requirements for cows comes from Faull and Hughes (1996). After observing cows freely lying and rising in a field, they concluded that Friesian/Holstein cows needed

    95 x 47 inches living space and a further 24 inches of head lunging space for rising. After conducting barn audits, they found 87% of cubicles (free stalls) were too short, 50% were too wide or too narrow, and that only 12% of the cubicles permitted real freedom of movement. Fully 10% of cows appeared moderately or severely restricted when lying down, 33% when rising and 55% when standing. How do our Canadian Holsteins compare to the UK cows?

    Holstein Canada and Holstein Association USA.

    Fully 25% of Canadian Lactation 1 Holstein cows stand 59 inches or higher at the rump and weigh greater than 1325 pounds at the time of type classification. According to information from Holstein Association USA, the average weight for the breed is 1500 lb. and rump height is 58 inches. The Associations do not report nose-to-tail length, imprint length or width.

    Cow measurements. Anyone who has tried to measure nose-to-tail length will understand why this measurement is difficult to find in the scientific literature. With inspiration from Red Green, we tried the duct tape method at an Ontario farm. After placing a duct tape grid on a 8.5-foot wall adjacent to a water trough, cows were recorded on video while standing or drinking. The technique showed that Holsteins in that herd measured greater than 102 inches from nose-to-tail.

    Measurements of rump width revealed that 50% of the cows in another Ontario herd measured greater than 25 inches at the hook bones and the top 25% measured 27 inches. Rump width may be useful to calculate imprint width (twice hook bone width) while resting in the narrow position. Rump height is a surrogate measure of withers height - a useful measurement for positioning the neck rail. Cows used for a behavior study in Quebec had a mean nose-to-tail length of 97.5 ± 3.7 inches (Haley 2001).

    An Estimate of Cow Dimensions. Although there are scant measurements for predictions, the top 25% of Canadian Holstein cows in a herd should weigh greater than 1550 pounds, stand 59 inches at the rump, and span 27 inches at the hook bones. A nose-to-tail length of 102 inches should be common.

    Matching cow dimensions and stall dimensions. Cermak (1988) and Irish and Merrill (1986) advised sizing stalls by using cow dimensions but gave no cow measurements for reference. For example, Irish and Merrill recommended building stalls twice the width of the hook bones. The newest tie stalls seem to be following this strategy. Similarly, Merrill recommended a total stall length equal to body length plus about 24 inches for forward lunging. The newest free stalls seem to be adhering to this recommendation.

    Knowledge of cow dimensions and space requirements for normal behavior is essential for building a husbandry system. Research projects to get the measurements and observe the behavior are a definite asset to our dairy industry. The new larger stall sizes appear to be based more on cow size, behavior and needs than the standard recommendations or common practice of the past. For the most part, stalls have been built for the average Holstein cow - one believed to be 1400 lbs. Nonetheless, our Holsteins exceed this weight by the end of their first lactation. About 50% of cows in most herds will weigh greater than 1550 lbs. Until stall performance information is available, the standard advice to match stall dimensions to average dimensions of cows is as unsatisfactory as providing medium sized coveralls for everyone visiting a farm. The larger half of the population of visitors would either not fit or fit uncomfortably into the coveralls. Building a group of stalls to fit lactation one cows and another group of stalls to fit mature cows could assure the majority has the freedom for normal resting, rising, or standing behavior.

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