Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Building Our Dexter Milking Stanchion, Part I

I did a lot of research online to find examples of homemade milking stanchions.  Herb and I looked over them together to come up with our own plan.  At the end of this post I'll list some of the links that were helpful to us, but here is the one that was invaluable:

Thank you, Wags Ranch!

Herb was so fast building this that I didn't get out to the barn in time to get photos of the beginning.  I'll do a post later with detailed measurements and an explanation of the process, but for now I'll show the construction after the basic framework was done.

Here Herb is nailing on one of the boards that holds the moveable neck-catcher boards.  You can see he's "toe-nailing" the horizontal pieces to the 4x4 framework.

The short vertical board that just peeks above Herb's elbow is a scrap he's using as a spacer.  He toe-nailed in the back cross-piece first, and he's using the spacer to make sure he nails the front cross-piece in a way that allows the moveable neck-catcher boards to move freely.  There's another spacer in the middle in between the two horizontal ones.  The spacer is too short to stick above the cross-pieces, but it still keeps them adequately spaced across the whole width.
What NOT to do! You know we're always willing to share our mistakes so others can learn from them!  :)

Herb had the front and back horizontal cross-pieces nailed in using spacers before we actually attempted to put the 2x4 neck-catcher boards in.  It quickly became obvious that any boards long enough to use as neck-catchers . . . were too long to get in there because of the low ceiling.  Bummer!

So Herb had to tear out the top back horizontal so he could angle the neck-catcher boards into place.

Spacers are good and necessary--just be sure to use your actual neck-catcher boards themselves!
What TO do!  In this photo you can see the vertical neck-catcher boards in place as Herb nails the final horizontal board.

You may think you caught us making another mistake because the neck-catchers don't stick up high enough to grab them and move them.  Keep reading . . .
Herb is drilling a hole in the bottom of one of the neck-catchers.  We measured very carefully so the hole would be in the right place!  You can rip boards out and nail them in again, but it's not so good if you have Swiss cheese boards with excess holes everywhere!
Once the stanchion got to the stage of placing the neck-catchers, we brought Siobhan in for a trial run and drew some pencil marks on each side of her neck where we thought the neck-catchers should go.  Herb then drew lines from our marks using a T-square to get them straight.  Finally he marked the middle on each line so he knew where to drill.

You may notice there are four vertical pencil lines (one is hidden in the black mark).  There's a slightly wider gap in the middle of the four marks, which is where Siobhan's neck will go.  We wanted the possibility to adjust the stanchion for a skinnier cow than Siobhan, so we made two marks on each side of where her neck will go.  Let's call them "fat cow" and "skinny cow" marks.  Since Siobhan is on the beefier side, we decided to only drill the "fat cow" marks at this time, but the "skinny cow" marks are there for future use if needed.

Obviously if you are using a bolt to hold the moveable neck-catcher board in place between two horizontal boards, you need to drill two holes for the bolt to go through both horizontal boards.  AND the holes have to line up with each other so the bolt can go straight through!

Herb's drill bit wasn't long enough to drill all the way through both boards at the same time so I came up with this solution:

First Herb drew lines as guides.  Then he drilled one hole, and I pushed the bolt barely through the hole pointing toward the next spot to drill.  

I then looked down straight above the two boards and verbally guided Herb to straighten up the drill bit before drilling.

As you can see, this method worked fairly well because the drill bit was pretty closely lined up with the bolt, which I pulled back out of harm's way as the drill came through.
 And now you can finally see how the neck-catcher boards work!  They pivot on the bolts in the bottom board.  AND they stick out up top so I can grab them and slide them closed against Siobhan's neck.

Note the 2x6 that Herb is hanging on to and the 4x4 it's nailed to.  He used 4x4's for the four uprights and 2x6's for the rest of the stanchion framework.

While a little more carpentry was required to make the stanchion rock-solid enough to milk a buffalo (stay tuned for a future post), the basic structure was so solid that it was already strong enough for your average Dexter cow.
Our stanchion is custom built for me!  I decided on a 5-gallon bucket as my stool, and we did a trial run to see where I wanted the lower side piece that you see above my head.  Herb held it in place while I decided where I wanted it, then I marked the spot.  This is perfect for me to rest my head against and still see under to have a good view of the cow's udder.

If Siobhan should turn out to be a kicker, we may have to add some modifications!

Another important step was to decide how where we wanted the neck-catcher boards to be held in place up above once Siobhan was in the stanchion.  This involved another trial run with her, but she didn't complain because she also got to do a trial run on our feed box!

We put the neck-catchers where we wanted them and marked on top of the top horizontal.  (You'll see our method for holding the neck-catchers in place on a future post.)

You can see the feed box built out of scrap lumber.  We sized it to fit a large rubber feed tub.  If you look closely at the feed box near Siobhan's lead rope, you can see the end of a piece of 2x4.  This braces against the neck-catcher, but it's part of the feed box.  We purposely built the side near the cow low enough for her head to easily reach over.  That piece of 2x4 just holds the bowl from sliding around.

The whole feed box can be pulled away from the stanchion for cleaning.

Oh, and notice that glow around Herb's head?  That's his halo!  It was slipping down on his sweaty forehead, but I just wanted you to note this proof that my husband is not only a good carpenter, but a real angel!

Here's a full shot of Siobhan giving a dry run of our stanchion.  It's almost ready to go . . .

I'll do one more post on the construction of the stanchion, but for now let me give you some links that we found helpful:

Portable milking stanchion - Scroll all the way down for more photos.

Prefab shed as a milking parlor

Several home-made stanchions  - Be sure to check out the one with the hubby posing as the cow!

An outdoor stanchion

Portable stanchion/shed - This is in a blog with some detailed explanations.

A very simple stanchion

A very complex stanchion - This would probably hold a Cape buffalo, should you ever desire to milk one!

Another simple stanchion

Just to make you jealous!  Kim Newswanger's milking parlor and stanchion were the first ones I ever saw.  It took me a while to get my expectations down from a concrete floor with a drain to something we could manage, but if you're feeling ambitious, check hers out.

I'm sure there are lots more resources out there in Google-land, but you can use these that I've collected in one place to get you started on dreaming up your own stanchion.  Let me know how yours turns out!


  1. Your stanchion is fab! I've just got my first cow and i've been looking for a good model to copy for ages. Thank you so much for putting this on the web! Becks in the UK x

    1. I'm so glad this is a help for you, Becks! Thanks for letting me know, that encourages me to keep on posting things like this. Good luck with your stanchion, and remember that ours is sized for a Dexter so depending on the size of your cow, you might need to make it bigger.

  2. Glad to see my stanchion plans were helpful! You did a great job of building yours! Jane

    1. Thank you, Jane. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and your plans were a huge help to us!

  3. Just about every time I search for something, your site pops with great information! Thank you again!

    1. You're welcome, Deanna! :) I guess there aren't that many people posting about Dexters. It's funny, when I google something about Dexters and then click on the Images option, I've been amused and surprised to see my own cows pop up! It always surprises me! :)

  4. Haha! That's funny! Your cows are really cute. Who can blame people!

    1. Well, I think they're pretty cute, too, but I'm probably biased. ;)

  5. Thanks so much for this!! Just completed our stanchion based on your and Wags Farms build.

    1. Thanks so much for letting us know. I hope you'll enjoy it.

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  7. Hi friends,
    Our Jersey family cow, Ella, just had her first calf 11 days ago, and milking went terribly the first 9 days. She kicked, she threw her body at us, it was awful and discouraging. I found your stanchion plans, and built my wife a similar one in our barn. Surprisingly, our Jersey went in without an issue the first try! She still fussed a great deal for the first three milkings, but (knock on wood), the last 3 milking have gone great! I'll love to email you a photo of how our stanchion turned out! Thanks so much for your sharing your creative and detailed building plans! I'm not a naturally gifted carpenter, and your plans really helped me a ton!

    1. Wow, Jason, you all have persevered amazingly! First-calf heifers can be very hormonal and nervous, and it sounds like you got it all! :( Actually, any cow with a new calf can be quite hormonal, but it sounds like Ella was kind of out there on the spectrum. I'm SO glad you persevered and that the plans were helpful. It sounds like things should settle down for you now that her hormones are settling down, too, but it always helps to have a secure place for them. I think knowing she's safe and secure and can't get out no matter how much she fusses goes a long to way to helping her settle.

      I'd love to see your photo--and share it on my blog, if you're willing. If you look on the right hand side of the blog, right below the ADCA logo with the Dexter head, you'll see a contact box. It's a secure way for you to send me your email, and I'll email you back so you can send me the photo. Thanks so much for letting me know that the plans helped! I look forward to seeing your photo!

  8. Hi,
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing these plans. Our two Dexter heifers should be due in a couple of months. This will fit the bill perfectly!

    1. You're so welcome, Cyber Onyx! I'm so glad the plans helped. Congratulations on the calves you're expecting! What an exciting time for you! I hope you really enjoy milking.

  9. Cows are going to make a mess of a wooden stand, no? How does this stand look after a few months of milking?

    1. William, we've been using this stanchion for almost 3 years now, and it's fine. Most well-trained cows don't poop or pee while being milked, so the worst that happens is some dirt tracked in on their hooves. Sweeping and hosing out (the stanchion has a slight slant toward the rear) keep the stanchion clean. I also keep a lightweight rubber stall mat on the wooden floor to prevent the cow slipping. It can be removed for hosing if necessary and hung over the gate to dry in the sun. Both the wood stanchion and rubber mat get a squirt of bleach as necessary for cleaning.

      On the rare occasion that a cow poops or pees in the stanchion, the wood is actually easier to clean than concrete. If you've ever had experience with even a dog or cat peeing on carpet over a concrete subfloor, you'll know that concrete is porous and absorbs odors. If concrete is rough enough not to be slippery, it's too rough to sweep or hose clean. If it's smooth enough to clean, it's slippery for the cow and needs a rubber mat--which brings you back to where we are.

      Finally, an occasional pressure washing at the end of milking season cleans the wood like new again.

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