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“Four-star” stalls to measure digestibility in cattle

These stalls benefit from the most recent innovations in terms of task automation. Designed to maximise the welfare and comfort of both animals and operators, they can be used for both young cattle and adult suckler or dairy cows, and guarantee the accuracy of measurements necessary to evaluate digestibility.

“Four-star” stalls to measure digestibility in cattle © Hervé Tournade
Updated on 06/04/2019
Published on 04/08/2019

The generation of data on ruminant nutrition requires knowledge of the digestibility of feeds (forage, concentrates), or in other words their ability to be converted into nutrients by the animal in order to meet its physiological needs.
Evaluation of the digestibility of a feed or ration (mixture of ingredients) requires numerous measurements to determine both the animal’s consumption (difference between the amounts of feed supplied and refused) and the amount wasted in faeces and urine. Livestock managers need to perform numerous repetitive, restrictive and sometimes risky manipulations near an animal that is placed in an unusual environment, even for a limited time: it is isolated from its fellows and must move as litle as possible. For these reasons, the Herbipôle Experimental Unit has in recent years been rethinking its approach in order to optimise experimental systems to measure digestibility in cattle.

A system studied in depth

Almost four years of study and tests were therefore necessary to create a "four-star" stall to measure bovine digestibility. Since 2014, animal handlers, expert technicians, research scientists and other actors in the Animal Welfare group of the Experimental Unit, in collaboration with other INRA research entities, have been working to develop a tool that could facilitate and increase the reliability of digestibility measurements while improving the safety and comfort of both animals and their handlers.

Modular, ergonomic and welfare-friendly

The result is a modular stall that can contain animals weighing between 300 and 900 kg – dairy cows or beef cattle, young or adult animals – in complete safety for both humans and animals. Numerous tasks have been automated to reduce the carrying of heavy weights (weighing of feed, trays for faeces and urine, water meters). This system also enables continuous measurement of the amounts ingested and the animal’s feeding rhythm, thanks to troughs equipped with electronic scales. Thus for each animal, the times of meals and the amount of feed consumed are recorded throughout the day. These data are transferred as they are collected to be stored and then exploited. Mobile side panels have improved conditions for the animals, which can now move freely (stand up, lie down or change position).
The first eight of these systems to be produced on an industrial scale were recently delivered by Chambon Gauthier in Clermont-Ferrand to the Herbipôle. The plans have been shared under a confidentiality agreement. These systems will be used as from early 2019 in the context of the European H2020 BeefAlim project and the SmartCow research network. Discussions on the measurement methods planned by this network may contribute to ongoing improvements to the system.

Towards collaborative studies

Through this achievement, the Herbipole has demonstrated its skills in terms of innovating in the design of experimental systems adapted to the needs of research on ruminants. The system can be used for the phenotyping of animals, study of the use of new ingredients or the development of new feed formulations. It opens the way towards new collaborations with industrial partners interested by this research.  

Scientific contact(s):

Partnership and Innovation Manager:
Xavier Vignon
Associated Division(s):
Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems
Associated Centre(s):


  • S.Rudel et al. Une stalle quatre étoiles pour la mesure de la digestibilité chez les bovins. 2017-poster