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Adequate lunging space: better for freestall-housed cows

June 22, 2011
When a cow rises from a resting position, she lunges forward. In a pasture, the animal naturally has a lot of space. In a freestall barn, a cow should have the same ability to lunge, but because of small space, she has more difficulty getting to her feet. Many reasons explain this problem like walls or boards placed directly in front of the cow’s head creating obstruction. This obstruction leaves no space for the cow to lunge forward and it becomes difficult to rise from the stall. The animal may become trapped against the wall while rising. When a cow is standing or lying diagonally in the stall, it’s a sign that she is searching for a way to preserve forward lunging space. Another sign of lack of lunging space is when cows are dog-sitting, meaning they have their weight placed on the rear end of their body and have their front legs extended like a dog. Inadequate stalls which lack lunging space are characterized by overall poor stall usage and may contribute to perching (standing with front legs in the stall and the rear legs in the alley).
Cows prefer to lunge forward then to the side when they rise form their stall. To provide enough lunging space, it is recommended to give 30 to 44 inches of space ahead of where the front knee of the cow is positioned while resting. Closed-front stalls, some of which face an outside wall, should be at least one foot longer than open-front stalls, to preserve the lunging space.
The key to solving these problems in your own freestall barn is to remove the obstacles to lunging. For head-to-head stalls or inside stalls, remove walls and boards that may impede lunging. This should leave at least six inches above the stall surface and 32 inches of vertical clearance. These changes may require moving posts or modifying the attachment of the stall dividers. If the stalls are located on an outside wall, building a sloping adjustable sidewall curtain support along the outside wall will give cows more space to lunge while still protecting them from adverse weather.
Using a stall divider that allows side-lunging into the adjacent stall is another solution. In this case, the lower rail should be higher that 11 inches above the stall surface and the upper rail should be no lower than 40 inches.
Piling bedding in front of the stall may unintentionally block lunging space. Some producers expressed concern that with open-front, head-to-head stalls, the cows may attempt to go through the sections between the stalls into the facing stall. A situation like this may lead to cow injuries and some restraint between stalls. To remedy this problem, a strap or a deterrent bar made of wood, metal, galvanized pipe, nylon strapping or rope, may be placed 40 to 42 inches above the stall surface in a 16-foot stall (two rows of head-to-head eight-foot stalls) or 34 to 36 inches in 18-foot stalls (two rows of head-to-head nine-foot stalls).
Come to think of it, cows can’t "tell" you that getting up can be an uncomfortable process by not being able to get out of their stalls, or by not wanting to use stalls for fear of having a negative experience. To ensure safe moving space, you may need to remove obstacles that prevent cows from lunging.
Text by Jeffrey Bewlet
Editing by Catherine Ruscigno



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