While we have not yet taken on the challenge of maintaining a dairy animal on our farm just yet, we did have a chance to help a neighboring farmer build a stanchion this weekend. A stanchion is basically a clean and safe place to milk your animal. It keeps the animal in a controlled environment where they won’t feel terribly stressed (which impacts the milk that is delivered). It is semi confined to keep the animal from moving about too much. And it takes them up off the dirty ground which helps control the quality of the milk that is collected in that it helps keep dust from being kicked up during the milking process.
Many designs for a stanchion locks the animals head into place. They also have collapsible internal walls to squeeze the animal in place to remove their ability to move at all. We chose not to create a neck locking mechanism or squeezing walls…but can easily add it to our design if we need it later. Instead we built a walk through stall with a raised deck that the cow can enter and leave without backing up and that should provide enough comfort for the cow while she is there that we shouldn’t need the capability to heavily restrict her movements.
Lets take a quick look at the build!
We started by digging 6 holes with standard post hole shovels.
We quickly realized that the ground was hard enough to require the jack hammer. So one of us used the jack hammer to loosen up the ground while the other removed the dirt. This was much faster.
Everyone got involved in this part.
After thinking a bit more about the weight of the cow I decided to add another three holes down the center of the deck. This may be over built…but better to have and not need than need and not have!
With the holes dug we started to stand up the posts. They say measure twice and cut once. I suggest that the same rules apply to making things level and plumb.
We chose to get the majority of the stall built prior to putting the cement in the post holes. This proved to be a wise choice as we were able to tweak the design as we went. But, it meant that we need to anchor the posts to the side of the barn to help keep them from moving as we built.
With one sides posts plumbed up and the bottom board in place we were able to start the other side.
We anchored the other sides posts to the first sides posts to take advantage of their anchoring to the barn wall.
We now had our four corners and the first part of the floor supports in.
The cows were very curious about our tinkering.
Then we put in the middle posts of both walls in and started putting in the floor cross supports.
Next we installed the center posts to take the brunt of the cows weight. Obviously these holes weren’t entirely in the center…oops!
By this time we actually had to pause for the cows night time milking.
Then I filled the holes for each post with water. And slowly trickled in the quickcrete post cement mix.
Then we were able to put the floor boards in. These boards were spaced with the thickness of standard “one by” material. …about 3/4” or so.
Here is a pic of the “Omish” me. I feel like there is a barn raising in my future!
Next we installed a “butt rope” similar to those found in a horse trailer. We pounded two eye bolts into place to get them started. Then twisted them in. On one end we anchored a chain with a standard lock link. And on the other end we attached a clasp.
Then all the “support” boards were removed. The side rails were attached. And a door was built.
We also attached header boards to connect the posts to add strength.
I will have to get some close ups for the doors locking mechanism. It is basically a long L shaped piece of metal that slides in two metal hoops. It slides through another eye bolt. This is a quick and easy lock that is out of the way from the cow.
The structure was largely complete. We still intend to wrap the bottom boards with a 2x12” board just to make it look better and keep people from banging their shins on the edges. Plus a coat of paint. And possibly a surface finish to the floor to add some texture.
Then came the fun part. The cow that my friends bought was a 5 year old factory cow. It was not used to being led on a halter or milked by hand. It was hard enough to get ahold of the cow let alone walk her into this new fancy stall we built. We led her into the barn with some sweet feed.
And let her nose around to check things out and get comfortable with the space.
Then we started to ask her to pay more attention to the stall.
And that is where I stopped taking pictures!
She was happy to eat as you see in the picture above. But she wasn’t about to just walk in. So it was time to get a rope attached to her halter. That took a bit as she wasn’t terribly used to humans.
Once we had her on the lead rope I applied what I know from training horses. Ask for a little and immediately give a rest and a reward for giving any sense of positive action. This meant if she took a step forward she got feed and love and praise. If she put one foot into the stall she got feed and love and praise. Pretty quickly we got her half way in. Then all the way in. We closed the butt rope behind her and closed the door in front of her. We kept her in the stall for less than a minute.
To be clear, the first attempt required me putting pretty good pressure on her halter and my friend applying some pressure from the back end. This wasn’t a “come on you can do it” sort of moment. It was work. Each iteration there after got easier. Notice the tight line to the halter.
Then we opened the gate and I walked her out for a quick break. Then we started again. We did this three or four times. And less effort was needed each time.
Ah-ha. Here you can see the door latch we installed.
It is clear to me that this cow is going to get the hang of these humans real quick. She loves her ears being scratched. And she seems to love the attention.
I spoke with the owner of the cow this evening. As it turns out, after having her training this afternoon she was very happy to walk into the stall this evening for milking. The stall worked great.