Stanchions and Bowls


A while back in discussing old barns I was asked the question:

"What in the world is a stanchion?"

I got a chuckle out of that question. A stanchion (according to the dictionary) is "a restraining devise fitted loosely around a cow's neck to confine it to its stall".

I don't blame anyone for not knowing what stanchions were or are. Most modern farmers don't use them any more, what with tie stalls, loose housing and milking parlors, etc. Some of the new generation farmers NEVER used them.
I built many old-type stanchions when I was farming. (My grandfather called them "stanchals"). We built stanchions after we moved to our present farm in Hoboken in 1953, and I still used the old design from my Grandfather Jones' barn. They were simple, cheap and did the job. I always used 1" x 6" basswood boards if I had them. It was softwood and did not get "splintery" and soon wore smooth of any sharp edges that might irritate the cows' necks.

The stanchion consisted of two vertical 1"x 6" boards spaced about 6 inches apart, wide enough to comfortably hold the neck of the cow but not wide enough for her to pull her head out. The left-hand board was stationary. The right-hand one, fastened at the bottom with a single bolt, was movable at the top so that it could be opened to free the cow or closed to lock her in. The fastener at the top was a block of wood which could be lifted via the leather hinge to allow the top of the space to be widened giving the cow room to pull her head out. Simple to make and to use.

"Calves in Barn", showing old stanchions & water Bowl

For small calves like these the stanchions were left "open" and the calves were tied to them with ropes and neck strap.

Once in while a bull or a cow with horns would learn to twist its head around, hook the locking block up, thus opening the stanchion, and then have a good time running freely around the barn where they could get into mischief.

Grandma Jones told in her diary about this happening with a dangerous bull when the "men folks" were away. (See the story "Minnie LLoyd Jones" on this web site.) It's nice to recall times long gone!

After the old wooden stanchions, came a newer variety. They were manufactured of steel, lined with wood where it touched the cow's neck. They were suspended from a top bar by a short chain and held in place at the bottom also with a chain. They opened and closed by a "mechanism" at the top of the somewhat "v" shaped contraption. To me this type of stanchion was a "pain in the neck" (my neck, not the cow's ) as the mechanism sometimes "stuck" after becoming rusty in the moist dairy barn. But they were widely used because they allowed the cow more freedom in moving her head around.

Then came the tie stalls. This kind consisted of a pair of upside-down "U" shaped metal pipes (about 1 1/2" diameter) about 3 or 4 feet high cemented into the floor about a foot apart. The "U's" were spaced far enough apart so that the cow could easily put her head in or out between them but not wide enough to walk through. Two short chains, which slid up and down on the pipes, were snapped into a ring on the wide leather collar around the cow's neck. The "U's" were set in a line for the herd. The left leg of one "U" served as the right-hand one for the neighboring stall. These "tie stalls" gave the cow more freedom to move, and lie down more comfortably.

Straw, sawdust or shavings were used over the concrete floor to make a soft bed for the cow. (the floor in my grandfather's barn were of wood) Sometimes thick rubber pads were laid over the cement floor to make it softer. Anything to make the cow more comfortable increased their milk production.

In earlier times when I first started farming, every morning I turned the cows out of the barn to drink from the watering trough in the barnyard. This was in the winter. In summer the cows drank from streams or from a water trough in the pasture. While they were out of the barn to drink the barn was cleaned (manure was shoveled out of the gutters and spread on the fields) and fresh bedding spread down behind the stanchions.

Most of the time in winter the water trough was frozen over, so the ice had to be chopped out. Of course, the cows were thirsty after a diet of dry hay, so they drank all they could to last them until next morning. They didn't really drink as much as they needed because it was cold ice water. Most of them were trembling and shaking as they stood in the barnyard waiting to be let back into the warm barn. They had drunk just enough water to "get by with".

In later years the farmers, who had a barn that was built warm enough to stay above freezing, began to use individual "water bowls or buckets".

Galvanized water pipes were run along the rows of stanchions and a metal bowl was fastened between each two cows. They could share one bowl because they took only a few sips at a time anytime they felt thirsty. The buckets had a "flat paddle" an inch or two above the bottom that allowed the water to come in or be shut off, of course, controlled by the cows as they drank. To teach our cows to use these strange contraptions, on the day they were installed I held down the paddle to let a little water in. When the cow drank that much water and tried to get more they naturally pushed the paddle down, trying to get what was left. It took only about one day for them to learn that was the way to get more water in the bowl.

It was said milk production increased by about 20% after water bowls were installed.

Charles E. Page July 2005