The condition of free-stalls often gets lost in the day-to-day shuffle of running a dairy operation. However, routine assessment of free-stall conditions needs to stay top of mind. Ask yourself these questions:

• Does the free-stall bed look like someplace I’d like to take a nap?

• Are cows touching the inside of the rear curb with their hocks or udders?

• Do more than 10 percent of cows have any signs of hock injury?

• Can I see the stall base?

• Is the “knee-drop” test painful? (Don’t forget to magnify the impact about eight times to account for the weight of a cow.)

“If you answered ‘no’ to the first question or ‘yes’ to any of the others, you need more bedding,” says Betsy Karle with the University of California Cooperative Extension. “The goal is to provide cows (with) a clean, dry surface that will provide cushion and traction while being yielding enough to conform to the shape of the cow.”

No bedding surface is maintenance-free, so take the time to rake or smooth the surface daily and add bedding as needed. Steps you take to increase cow comfort will pay dividends with more milk in the tank.