Size the stall to match the size of the cow

Category: Dairy

Freestalls should be appropriately sized to accommodate the resting imprint of the cows using them, and to permit sufficient space for the cow to lunge forward when rising and lying down without movement obstruction.

Critical dimensions for freestall design include width (measured on center between divider loops), length (from the rear point of the curb to the furthest forward point the cow can lunge to), and the distance from the rear curb to the brisket locator.

Cows spend more time lying and less time standing in larger stalls because of fewer disturbances between neighbors.

In general, it is recommended that stalls are sized to provide for the largest 25% of cows in the group. 

Note the lunge and bob space required by the cow as she rises. This allows the cow to transfer weight from her rear limbs, facilitating rising


Diagonal lying is a major problem associated with poor stall design. This behavior creates manure contamination in the corner of each stall. There are a number of risk factors that promote diagonal lying, which include:

  • Stalls that are too short – either against a solid sidewall or opposite another occupied stall, which inhibits front lunge
  • Stalls with lunge space obstructions, such as transverse stall divider mounting bars and deterrent bars which are between the stall surface and 38 inches (97 cm) above the surface
  • Stalls with a loop design that promotes side lunge
  • Stalls with brisket locators higher than 4 inches (10 cm) above the stall surface, which prevent the forward thrust of the forelimb during the rising movement
  • Stalls with brisket locators placed too near the rear curb restricting lying space
  • Stalls with neck rails too close to the rear curb
  • Head-to-head stalls with social obstructions in front

These cows are lying diagonally across the stall and contaminating the platform due to a combination of a high brisket locator, a lunge and bob zone obstruction, and a social obstruction on a short head-to-head stall platform – NOT because the stall is too wide!


In new stall designs, dimensions must be such that they reduce the risk of diagonal lying. It is also vital that brisket locators, divider loop type, and divider mountings are correctly positioned and fitted.

Target stall dimensions for cows of various body weights are given in the table below for ideal stalls in pens without mixed age groups. The diagram identifies the location of the measurements. Stall width is measured on center.

Target freestall dimensions for a range of body sizes.


Stall Dimensions (cm)Body Weight Estimate (kg)
Center-to-center stall divider placement (stall width) (A) 107 114 122 127 137 145
Total stall length facing a wall (B1) 244 274 274 305 305 320
Outside curb to outside curb distance for head-to-head platform (B2) 457 488 488 518 518 549
Distance from rear curb to rear of brisket locator (C) 163 168 173 178 183 191
Width of rear curb (D) 15-20 15-20 15-20 15-20 15-20 15-20
Horizontal distance between rear edge of neck rail and rear edge of curb for mattress stalls (E) 163 168 173 178 183 191
Horizontal distance between rear edge of neck rail and rear edge of curb for deep bedded stalls (E)* 147 152 157 163 168 175
Distance from rear edge of divider loop to point of curb (F) 23 23 23 23 23 23
Height of brisket locator above top of curb (loose bedded stall or mat/mattress surface) (G) 8 8 10 10 10 10
Height of upper edge of bottom stall divider rail above top of curb (loose bedded stall or mat/mattress surface) (H) 25 25 31 31 33 36
Interior diameter of the stall divider loop (I) 76 84 84 91 91 91
Height of neck rail above top of curb (loose bedded stall or mat/mattress surface) (J) 107 114 122 127 132 137
Obstruction height (K) 13-89 13-89 13-89 13-89 13-89 13-89
Horizontal distance from brisket locator to loop angle (L) 51-56 51-56 51-56 51-56 51-56 51-56
Rear curb height (M) 20 20 20 20 20 20

Remodeled Facilities

Stall dimension recommendations are targeted to prevent disturbances between neighboring cows and to facilitate rising and lying movements. However, in remodeled barns, we must be prepared to make compromises. Stall widths may have to be adjusted for:

  • Space allowance in the barn – For example, the distance between the cross alleys in a row of stalls must be dividable by a whole number of stalls
  • Risk factors for diagonal lying – If we make a stall wider, but do not improve lunge room or forward stride obstructions such as high brisket locators, cows will show a greater tendency for diagonal lying and more stalls will be contaminated with manure

Thus, in stalls against a sidewall, if length is not improved beyond 8 feet (2.4 m), cows will have to lunge to the side, and wider stalls may promote more diagonal lying.

Lying position and lunge behavior in stalls against a sidewall (a, b, c). If stalls are made wider with no improvement to lunge space, cows may lie across the stall more (b). For cows to lie straight and reap the benefits of wider stalls, we must lengthen the stall to allow forward lunge (c).