New research from Norway says the answer depends on herd size. The data show that smaller cow herds in free-stall facilities produce less milk than cows in tie-stalls. But research also indicates these animals have a higher reproductive performance and suffer less teat injuries and metabolic diseases. The study was published in BioMed Central’s journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. It compared performance and health within the two stall types in response to Norway’s ban on the construction of new tie-stalls.

The researchers obtained data on 812 herds of Norwegian Red cattle, 192 of which were kept in tie-stalls. Free-stall cows in smaller herds produced significantly less milk than those in tie-stalls, but more milk in larger herds.

Since 2004, all new cattle facilities built in Norway must be of the free-stall type. There has, however, been very little research on the impact of the interaction between housing system and herd size on animal welfare. The researchers conclude that, “Performance and health is not universally better in small free-stalls than in tie-stalls. Herd size must be taken into consideration when preparing and evaluating regulations regarding housing system for dairy cows.”