One of the biggest decisions when building free-stall barns is whether to design a post-and-rail feeding system or use headlocks. Anecdotal information suggests that cows eat more with a post-and-rail system, but many producers prefer cow handling with headlocks.

Frey Dairy in Conestoga, Pa., got the best of both worlds when it built a 600-cow free stall barn in 1999. Seventy five percent of the facility contains post and rail with one-fourth of the barn containing headlocks. The dairy managers place just-fresh cows in the headlocks where they are checked every day for the first week after calving. The headlock area also contains special needs pens and an area to treat sick animals. The dairy also has a palpation rail off the parlor to work with animals in the post-and-rail pens.