How to avoid the 9 most common dairy cow housing pitfalls

Filled with the latest in building design technology and cow comfort, we asked 10 companies at the Livestock Event for their advice to dairy farmers on how to avoid common pitfalls when improving or building new housing.

See also: Livestock Event 2014: Top tips on investing in new dairy housing


Holstein dairy cows housed in a shed

© Tim Scrivener

1. Common pitfall: Ventilation 


“Using traditional space boarding does not offer the best ventilation for dairy housing.

“Material solutions can provide effective ventilation and increase inlet size for greater circulation.

“Closed roofs or even open ridges do not benefit from greater increased outlet properties.

“Ventilation light ridges actively draw warm stale air out, increasing air outlet by working with the stack effect while letting natural light in.”

Felicity Beaumont, sales executive, Galebreaker Agri

“Many regard natural ventilation as the solution to dissipating heat generated.

“Large-scale ventilation is costly and not always needed, however some localised ventilation may be needed, for example, air-recirculating turbulator fans facing robots, or belt drive ceiling fans over passageways, not cubicles.

When building new housing aim building orientation should allow prevailing wind to flow through the shed.

John Lack, general manager, Hydor

Dairy cow lying down

© Tim Scrivener

2. Common pitfall: Surface the cow lies on 


“Often an afterthought to building infrastructure, but cows spend 14 hours lying so a good mattress is essential with the following qualities:

• a degree of softness but also supportive

• impact absorbency as the cow lies down

• hard enough to support the hoof as the cow rises – still allowing grip

• a good insulator (rubber is a poor thermal insulator, non-absorbent foam has 100% thermal barrier)

• 100% non-absorbent for hygiene control to prevent bacterial growth

• easy to clean therefore must keep its shape not dip in the middle.”

John Parsons, CowComfort

Dairy cows in a shed

© Tim Scrivener

3. Common pitfall: Space

“When designing new cubicle housing, cows need about 8sq m each.

• Passageways: need sufficient loafing area for them to feed and drink without fear of bullying, especially at crossovers

• Cubicles: should be 10ft x 3ft 9ins with no restrictions when cows get up.”

David Beech, director, David R Beech Barn Equipment

4. Common pitfall: Slurry storage and removal from passageways

“If properly designed, slurry should drop into a hole or go down through slats into a slurry pit.

“Gaps between slats are crucial and should be about 40-50mm.

“A system can be fitted to remove slurry build up at the end of scraper passages by sliding backwards and forwards over the slats to work slurry through.”

Pat O’Donovan, director, DairyPower Equipment.

Dairy cow shed with watertroughTS

© Tim Scrivener

5. Common pitfall: Water troughs

“Water sources should be high pressure, low volume to reduce amount of standing water.

“This encourages intake which increases milk yields.

“Troughs should be cleaned out daily.

“Large troughs are impossible to clean out, with volumes too big and too low pressure.

“Each cow needs 80mm water trough length and troughs should be about 300mm deep.”

Hazel Ronson, national sales manager, Minshall Construction

6. Common pitfall: Handling systems

“A separate race and crush can take up valuable cubicle space and is often costly.

“Self-locking yokes save space and allow the vet to see cows more quickly, which can decrease vet bills.”

Rypke de Boer, director, De Boer Handling Systems

7. Common pitfall: Lighting

“Increased lighting equals increased yield.

“With skylights, light levels and duration varies throughout the year.

“Avoid skylights and install high-lux level lighting for 16 hours a day followed by eight hours of darkness lit by a red light so staff can still see.”

Adrian Gamble, Cowcare Systems

Dairy cow shed under construction

© Tim Scrivener

8. Common pitfall: Concrete floor finish

“Floors should be perfectly flat with a diamond-blade profile cut into the surface to ensure even pressure on the hoof bottom.

“The profile provides adequate traction without compromising the surface of the concrete (making it too rough).”

Simon Wookey, Concept Cowhouse

9. Common pitfall: Future proofing buildings

“When building new housing look at your system and consider if it is likely to change over the next 20-30 years.

“The design has to accommodate changes in future farming practice, for example switching from outdoors to housing all year.

“Cows have also altered vastly in shape and size so look carefully at cubicle dimensions.

“It is cheaper to build what you may need in future now, than pay for an extension in five years’ time.”

Jonathan Richardson, technical adviser, Browns of Wem