Restraint and Treatment Facilities for Dairy Animals

Dairy animals must periodically be isolated and restrained for vaccinations, breeding, and examinations. Well-designed restraint facilities promote good calf, heifer, and cow care.
Restraint and Treatment Facilities for Dairy Animals - Articles


An absolute minimum requirement for any dairy operation is a separate treatment pen and a maternity area, each with a built-in stanchion. In any housing system, the operator should be able to observe all animals and easily separate and restrain those that need care or treatment. Common observation points include milking centers, pasture Jots, feeding, resting, exercise, and calving areas.

When considering and evaluating an existing or planned treatment facility, keep these points in mind:

  • One person should be able to isolate and restrain an animal for observation and treatment safely and conveniently.
  • Animal handling problems increase in direct proportion to herd size.
  • Components must be selected and constructed to reduce the possibility of injury to operators and animals, such as pinch points and jagged edges.
  • Construction should withstand abuse by 1,500-pound cows and the equipment used to clean the area.
  • Include access to running water, medical supplies, records, and parking for the veterinarian's service vehicle.
  • Good lighting should be provided.

When designing individual components or complete treatment facilities, remember there is no one system that will best meet the needs of all dairy operators. Personal opinion and traditions help determine the ultimate selection of components for a workable system. Herd size, expected types of treatment, and probable frequency of use will determine final selections. For instance, if you plan to take care of animal hoof trimming, you will need a holding pen and hoof table, equipment normally provided by the professional trimmer. Special equipment required for a complex surgical operation should not be installed. This should be done in a veterinary clinic. Focus on regular needs, such as calving, dehorning, and vaccination.

Talk with your veterinarian, A. I. technician, or county Extension agent for additional ideas. Also, visit farms with good treatment facilities.


The design of housing systems many times prohibits required group or herd observation to determine whether certain animals need treatment. Dairy cattle that are easily observed receive better care. Animals needing more regular observation should be housed in areas where they can be checked more conveniently. A drive-through free stall barn with its "clean" center alley may foster more regular observation than a converted loose housing dry lot system.


In a stanchion or tie-stall barn, separating animals for treatment is quite easy. It may be administered in the stanchion or by leading the calf, heifer, or cow to a treatment area. Animals housed in dry lots, free stalls, corrals, or pastures, however, present a more difficult separation challenge. The milking parlor is a convenient place to separate animals. Facilities should provide for separation of an entire group or cutting out of a particular animal. Some managers feel that identifying and isolating cows during milking disrupts the milking process and, therefore, prefer not to do this.

Various design principles can be used to help identify and separate animals in housing or feeding areas. Systems can be designed to allow cqws to be driven along normal, familiar resting or feed alleys that open into a pen or confinement area. Proper location of pen gates that open and block a cross alley makes this method effective. The cow can either be treated in this area or moved to treatment facilities. The path the cow is driven should gradually funnel toward the opening. Attempting to direct a cow through a 5-foot gate along a 50-foot sidewall or barnyard fence should be avoided.


Properly located pen gates may block off a travel lane and serve to direct a dairy animal into a desired area. Gates also may be used within pens to form a funnel to direct a reluctant cow into a stanchion or other type of lockup. They also can become part of a confinement area for breeding or rectal examination.

Gate construction and size are important. One that is too weak, too low, or having a lot of open space may break and cause injury to animals and operator. Gates should be at least 66 inches high to discourage jumping and no more than 16 to 18 inches from the ground so animals won't crawl under. However, the distance from the ground should be sufficient to allow a trapped person to roll under. Space between rails should be 10 inches or less.


Most dairy operations never have enough pens to confine "special" animals. Separate pens should be provided for maternity and treatment and located in more than one area. At least one maternity pen should be designed for every 25 cows and one treatment pen for every 50 cows.

Basic requirements are:

  • Size - for extended use, pens must be at least 12 by 12 feet. This provides adequate space for bedding and manure buildup between reasonable cleanout periods and working space around the animal.
  • Access - gates should be designed to direct cows into the pen from animal traffic lanes and to allow for easy removal of "downed" animals and manure. If gutter cleaners are used, they should be located within or next to the pen.
  • Feed and water - provide continuously running and freeze-proof water plus manger space.
  • Cow restraint - all pens should have a device to hold an animaL
  • Lifting point - at least one lifting ring capable of supporting a cow should be centered over the pen.

Treatment Stall

This specially designed component provides additional restraint for treatment and is normally placed in a tie-stall line. The stanchion can hold a jumpy, first-calf heifer during milking. This stall also makes it convenient for an operator to trim an animal's feet.

Single-Cow Stanchion Pens

There are two basic locations for a stanchion or lockup in a single-cow pen. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Stanchion pens used for calving must allow for adequate space behind the cow. A diagonal lockup in the comer is not recommended because access to the head and neck is limited and inconvenient.

Pen with side stanchion

This arrangement provides for adequate space behind the animal but limits side freedom for calf-jack operation and side examination. Gates next to the stanchion will improve access. The cleanout gate is located to walk the cow directly into the stanchion.

Side gate opens to block access lane and direct cow into pen.

Divider gate swung open to direct cow towards stanchion.

Divider gate tied with rope to hold cow for palpation or pen cleaning.

Cow locked in stanchion with side gates open for access to cow.

Pen with Center Stanchion

The stanchion is placed in the center of the pen wall, which allows for maximum access (o both sides and rear of the animal. However, it is more difficult to direct a cow into this stanchion.

Side gate and divider gate swung to direct cow towards stanchion.

Both side gates and divider gates used to direct cow towards stanchion.

Headgates and Chutes

Headgates can be designed with many features not found in a fixed stanchion or pen wall. Either homemade or purchased commercially, they can be placed in alley ways and other areas to provide an "assembly line" treatment system. Some popular beef head gates hinge at the bottom and open in a fanlike fashion. This results in an obstructed cow exit and increases the potential for injury to wide hips, low-hanging udders, and rear legs. They are not recommended.

The self-locking headgate can be adjusted for animal size. It has a side-hinged complete opening from top to bottom to allow front exit. This headgate allows easy removal of "downed" cows and heifers.

Chutes prevent side-to-side cow movement during treatment. Side gates or panels open for examination of the cow's udder and body cavity. Tapered side-wall chutes, like fan headgates, are not suitable for dairy cattle.

Breeding Facilities

In come cases, it may be desirable to have special breeding facilities. Since a cow in heat will normally stand at ease once she feels the inseminator working at her rear, a breeding chute usually consists of a blind alley arrangement in which the cow can be restrained from forward and left to right movement. It may be desirable to add a chain or bar across the rear of the chute high enough to prevent the animal from stepping over but low enough to allow access to the rectum and vagina. If a chain is used, it should be fastened so that the inseminator can release it with one hand. When using a bar, it should be placed in slots to allow it to slide forward in case the cow moves during insemination. Provide an area where the inseminator can safely place his equipment.

Breeding chutes are usually simpler and less expensive than an overall treatment facility. Those located off return lanes must provide access for the inseminator from outside the working area. The system should be designed so the inseminator never gets between the animal and rear restraining device.

Loading Ramps

Well-designed animal loading facilities will reduce loading time and the likelihood of injury to cattle and operator. Ramp dimensions will be dictated by the equipment popular in your area. Low-bed trailers, less than 12 inches from the ground, will require only a drive-in alley and side gates to funnel the cows.

Unloading large numbers of animals is easier with wide docks. Some trucks may require wide platforms because of built-in wide unloading ramps. Combination swinging and telescoping gates should be included to close off areas between permanent loading dock sides and truck. Solid sides 5 to 6 feet high will prevent distraction of animals.

Provide a catwalk on one side of the ramp for the operator. A 20 degree incline with grooves or steps 1 foot wide and 3½, to 4 inches high will reduce the chance of slipping or falling.

Fence Line Stanchions

Stanchions or lockups lined together along hay racks and feed bunks also restrain dairy animals for treatment and routine examination. The advent of self-locking or automatic closing systems has dramatically increased their usefulness and popularity. A lockup near pastures and other feeding areas provides convenient access to animals.

Requirements for satisfactory fence line stanchions include self-locking on cow entry; individual or group release; a method to lock out animals when the system is not in use; easy removal of "downed" animals; and use as a method to lock animals away from feed.

Self-locking fence line stanchions are very useful for post-calving and pregnancy checks, vaccinations, tailhead chalking, heat detection, and artificial insemination. Manually closed gang stanchions often are unsatisfactory because the dairyman must have all cows or heifers in line before locking.

Dairyman chalking tailhead as part of heat detection routine in a row of self-locking stanchions.

Hoof Trimming

Hoof treatment and examination can be placed in two categories: (1) the examination and treatment of a few animals as part of normal herd health and (2) regular examination and trimming of the entire herd. For a few animals, restraint methods and lifting the cow's feet are described in the section on treatment stalls. Consultation with herd health care personnel is desirable when planning for hoof trimming operations.

For "assembly line" hoof trimming, a tilting hoof table should be constructed. Power-operated tilting tables are preferred for regular use. The strain and effort required to crank a table and, at the same time, to see if the animal is properly secured, makes hand operation undesirable.

Foot Bath

A foot bath, often used as part of a treatment program, should be placed where all cows will have to walk through the solution. An ideal area is the return lane of the milking parlor. The foot bath should be far enough away from the parlor exit gates to allow room for one string of cows beyond the exit gate. Locate this bath in an area where contamination will be minimal.

A foot bath should span the full width of the alley and extend about 10 feet in the return lane to discourage cows from jumping over. The solution container must hold at least 4 inches of liquid. To facilitate cleaning, provide a drain or slope on at least one end to allow the contents to be swept out. The floor in and beyond the bath must be treated to reduce slipping.


Concrete floors should be skid-proof, easily cleaned, and contain one-half inch grooves in a 6- to 8-inch diamond pattern or surface grit troweled in. Animal walking areas should not have a regular troweled surface. Floor grooves that must be washed and disinfected should be sloped to provide drainage. Have one or more earth-bottomed pens (gravel or packed limestone) for recuperating "downer" cows.

Treatment Area in Return Lane

Holding area and return lane during milking.

Proper gate arrangement allows cows requiring treatment to be moved from the holding area or pens to headgate and chute in the return lane. When not in use, the headgate may be locked open in the alley, swung to one side, or raised on tracks.

Gates and walk-through passes in the chute and headgate area allow access to the front, sides, and rear of the cow.

The cow will catch herself in the self-closing headgate.

Gates open for access to the rear of the cow.

Headgate open to allow cow to return to the barn or holding pen.