Dirty cows have a negative impact on milk quality, including greater chances of mastitis and a high somatic cell count (SCC). Dirty cows usually mean a dirty tail, and dirty tails can come from dirty stalls. Long tails are here to stay since the ban of tail docking. But thankfully, managing manure for cow hygiene is more automated than it’s ever been.

“Automated alley scraper systems have been successfully used on livestock farms for decades to keep freestalls and cows clean,” says Andy Lenkaitis, GEA product manager for manure equipment. “I work with many farmers who produce high-quality milk and have cows with long tails. They make management of their automated alley scraper systems a priority to avoid tail entanglement or animal injury.”

Manage your alley scraper system to help ensure your cows are safe and clean with these tips:

Scraper system

  • Check your control panel load sensor seasonally to monitor the scraper system’s power. Monitoring its power will limit the chance of creating extremely high cable tension and help you notice abnormal power spikes.

  • Manage the control panel settings for proper sensitivity, especially during dry conditions or when you bed stalls.

  • Properly adjust the tension of your scraper cable, rope or chain system to prevent scrapers from jumping around and potentially pinching a tail against the curb. Your local equipment dealer can assist you with this task if needed, or check the manual for detailed instructions.

  • Leave 1 inch between your scraper wing and the curb to help prevent pinching tails.

  • Consider having a scraper wing with a roller for offset alleys or if you want to keep the blade tip touching the curb.

  • Choose a blade that has smooth surfaces near the stall beds, as they make it more difficult to snag a loose strand of hair.

  • Take care of sharp edges, protruding bolts or pinch points immediately to reduce injury to your cows.


  • Be sure your brisket board is in its proper position for your herd (typically 65 to 72 inches ahead of the rear curb) to allow cows to move ahead in the stall. This adjustment will allow cows to have more of their body in the stall. Note: It may require more frequent cleaning of the stall bed because the chance of manure in the rear third of the stall may increase.

  • Maintain a fly abatement program and ensure proper airflow to reduce the presence of flies. This reduces the likelihood of a cow swinging her tail and leaving it in the alley.

  • Adjust scraper run times to align with milking, feeding or pushing up feed to reduce the chance of a cow lying in the stall at scraping times.

  • Alter feeding pattern to align with the scraper position in pens.

Other management considerations include having safety glasses for your employees to prevent tail switches from harming their eyes during milking. Having a tail trimming protocol that works for your dairy’s schedule is also beneficial. For example, you may consider trimming every cow’s tail when she calves.

“A clean environment is key for high milk quality,” says Lenkaitis. “By taking care of your automated barn scraper system, you will take care of your cows, and your cows will take care of you.”  end mark


—From GEA news release

PHOTO: Photo courtesy of GEA.