Excessive animal density can be a huge stress on dairy cows, says Brian Perkins, technical services specialist with Monsanto Dairy Business. To determine how crowded your cows are, begin by measuring bed space, or stalls available, before factoring in bunk space.

“All cows must be able to rest comfortably,” he says. That means you should have plenty of stalls — one per cow — so that cows are not forced to stand unless they are eating or drinking or forced to lie in alleys.

Perkins offers the following recommendations of how many cows should be grouped together. These percentages represent the maximum number of cows per total number of free-stalls.

  • Dry cows: 100 percent of bed space. (100 stalls = 100 cows)
  • Close-up cows: 80 percent to 100 percent of bed space. (100 stalls = 80 to 100 cows)
  • Fresh cows: 80 percent to 100 percent of bed space. (100 stalls = 80 to 100 cows)
  • Up to 100 days in milk: 100 percent bed space. (100 stalls = 100 cows)

If you’re going to overcrowd any group of cows, only do so for those more than 100 days in milk.

However, don’t expect them to respond positively to the situation. “You can overcrowd these cows,” says Perkins, “but how much laminitis and environmental mastitis can you deal with? Because these issues will become more severe the more cows you add — and poor cow performance won’t be the fault of your nutritionist — it’s a matter of cow comfort.”