Cattle housing should be a key management tool for the winter whether you’re working with new or old buildings. Whichever of these brackets you fall into the reproductive performance, the yield, and the health and wellbeing of your stock is very dependent on this environment. In this article we will review the key areas of cubicle housing.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, showed that UK dairy farms are hugely variable in terms of the quality and quantity of housing. This study showed that some farmers were giving as little as 5.4m2 per cow up to 12.7m2 per cow at their maximum stocking density. The main aspect which set these high space farms apart was the presence of outdoor access space. People have reported that this outdoor space has been very useful for heat detection. The majority of farmers in this study stated that they thought additional space for cows was important for improving welfare, with health following a close second.

Stocking Density

We have known for a long time that stocking density, in terms of number of cows to number of available cubicles, is an important factor in housing. The main point here is available cubicles: if cubicles are not of good condition and comfortable, if they are broken or located in an area which cows do not like then they will not use them. Therefore, you may think you have more accessible cubicles than what the cows think!

This could massively affect their ability to rest. Cubicle set-up should be checked as with changes to genetics, the size and shape of your cows may also have changed. When adapting the dimensions of your cubicles keep in mind the largest 10% of your herd. This will increase cow comfort and therefore lying times. It is also worth noting that assessment of the cubicle surface quality is important as matts and mattress’ will degrade over time.


The key to ventilation is replacing moisture laden “dirty” air with fresh air from outside the shed without creating a draught. Fresh air will enter the shed through the sides (inlet), with dirty air leaving through the ridge of the roof (outlet). A rule of thumb for an appropriately sized outlet is 0.1m2 per head of stock. More precise measurements can be undertaken using the size of an animal and the total floor space inside the shed. If this is not working in your sheds then there are ways to help, including the use of fans and automatic curtains.

Feed-face and Water Troughs

If your cows are to produce milk theyneed to be able to access the feedface and water troughs.

The feed-face needs to make eating easy and given how much it costs to produce a high quality ration, do not let it go to waste! The good thing is cows want to eat, they have a high drive for this activity. In general cows like to feed at the same time, so your feed-face needs to be long enough to accommodate that. Inappropriately placed and positioned neck rails will also stop cows from eating as much of their ration. Other considerations include feed height relative to cow and feed surface. A slightly raised, smooth and clean surface has been shown to improve intakes.

Water troughs are sometimes a commonly neglected area on farm and cows need water to produce milk. Do not place these in hard to access areas which have high cow traffic that will stop them from drinking. Cows tend to be most thirsty following milking, therefore, try to place troughs in an area to compliment this. Clean troughs with fresh water will also help.

A Living Space!

Now you might have all of these areas right BUT, if a cow can’t easily gain access then it might all be in vain. The extra space above the necessary minimum feeding and bedded area is called “a living space”, and you can now find out how much your cows have and how this compares to farms across Great Britain using this online calculator (

A neglected area of housing is the process of cow flow. Cow flow will allow cows to get to and stay at the resource they want. Whether that be a cubicle, the feed face or a water trough, if a cow uses her energy to get there, and then has to fight to stay there, this energy will not be used for milk production and is therefore wasted.

Wider passageways, whether that be at the feed-face, between cubicles or cross-over passages are not wasted space. This is the same as giving the cows a motorway rather than a country lane to move around in at rush hour. If they are wasting time getting between resources, they are losing time using the resources! If you would like to discuss potential improvements to your buildings, please let us know.

Cubicles - cattle housing