Housing Design

A guide to Housing and Cubicle design for the modern Dairy Herd


This booklet has been produced to provide some basic design information for those involved in the construction of new dairy units, to suit the larger dairy cow of today. Information has come from various sources, including work done by the MDC and the Kingshay farming trust . It should act as a general guide to building design, though of course measurements don’t have to be exact. It can be altered to fit each different farm, and anyone involved in the design process should combine this with other information, such as legislative and quality assurance requirements, especially on organic farms.

Basic Overall Layout

Bedded Courts – A bedded lying area should be at least 6 sq m per cow, with a scraped feed area of at least 2.5 sq m Cubicles – At least 3.5 sq m per cow, with standing area of at least 4 sq m in a two row system, or 3 sq m in a three row system.

Feed Face

At least 0.7 m per cow with full access to feed, though this can be reduced to 0.4m if feeding is ad lib Feed Barrier location – locate feed close to the resting areas, as this will encourage lying down and reduce bullying

Water Troughs

Need at least 1 sq m of drinking surface per 60 cows, and provide at least 2 troughs, so that shy cows may have access as well as the more dominant animals. Trough size should be at least 300 litres and provide a flow rate of 10 litres per minute. Locate them on concrete areas, rather than bedded areas, to reduce contamination build up around them. Also they should be kept in good condition and cleaned out regularly to improve palatability, and thus ensure adequate consumption (We’re fairly sure that having dead rats and rotting silage in the water, does not encourage a cow to drink!).

Calving Pens

allow 12 sq m per cow Ventilation – allow 40 sq m per 100 cows inlet and 10 sq m per 100 cows outlet. Cows like fresh air and it helps them to stay cool and reduce moisture build up on the walls.

Roof Lights

At least 10% of the roof over accommodation should be roof lights and 20% over handling area. Generous vented ridge area in handling/collecting areas makes for a much more favourable working environment. Bedded areas and feed stances These provide excellent comfort for cattle at all stages of lactation, but can lead to hygiene related problems (mastitis, retained cleansings), if not kept in excellent clean and dry condition. Also high straw usage can be expensive.

Feed Stance Width

If cows can access feed directly from the bedded area, then 3.5m should be provided per cow. If it is walled off this should be increased to 4 m per cow, to allow cows to walk behind those that are feeding. In this situation, the gate from the bedded area should allow for at least 0.2 m width per cow.

Collecting Area Access

This should be from the feed stance, not the bedded area, so that cows can be kept in the feed passage after milking for a specific time (30 mins) to allow for teat closure prior to lying down in the straw. This will help to reduce occurrence of environmental mastitis.

Tractor Scraped Passes

Twice daily scraping when cows are being milked. A slant of around 2% through the shed will prevent slurry pooling. A small step up to the bedded area from the feed passage, should stop slurry running onto bedded area.

Collecting / Dispersal Yards


Need approx. 1.5 sq m per cow in collecting yard, which should be adapted to the number of cows in milk so that no cow has to remain standing for longer than 1 hour. They should have access to water during this time.


A slope of 5% up to the parlour entrance will encourage cows to the parlour and assist in the cleaning up after milking. Avoid steps into and out of the parlour as this will slow cows down, are difficult to clean and can cause foot damage.


If the area is under a roof, a minimum ridge outlet area is 10 sq m per 100 cows, and preferably more. This helps the cows to stay clean, dry and healthy.


Sharp turns and narrow passageways are to be avoided. Single file passages should be at least 0.9m, double file 1.8m. Rounded rump rails are helpful to prevent injury and keep the walls clean. These should be 0.9m up from the floor and 0.1m off the wall.


These should not be located too close to the exit or entrance to a parlour or they will slow the cows down. Should ideally be able to empty one whole side of the parlour before they get to the footbath.

Dispersal Area

After milking, it is important that all cows have somewhere clean to stand for at least 30 minutes, to allow the teats to close before they lie down onto any bedding. As mentioned before, this will reduce mastitis occurrence. Voltage – Parlour areas can be prone to stray voltage , so always ensure a common earth in this area.

Floor Design And Maintenance

Slippery floors can cause many problems, and steps must be taken to reduce this as much as possible, to lower the risk of injury to the cows and maintain cow confidence.

Floor Types And Finishes

Grooves assist grip on concrete and distance between grooves should not exceed 40mms. Newly laid floors should be left with a “rough brush” texture, to avoid excess wear to the feet, and grooved once they have worn down slightly.

Slopes To Drainage

Floors should have a 2% slope towards a drainage area, to avoid slurry pooling. Small link areas are often overlooked, but can easily become very wet and dirty if used by a large number of cows daily.

Floor Maintenance

A high standard of floor maintenance is essential on any dairy unit, to help to reduce foot problems. Damaged areas quickly collect slurry and cause injury. A rigorous repair programme should be enforced, preferably during the summer before the cows come in for the winter. This goes for the access roads and tracks around the farm, which are equally as important when trying to reduce lameness occurrence.

Cubicle Design And Management

Cubicle numbers – always have one well maintained cubicle per cow. They should all be draught and rain free, with good access for all cows to feeding and milking areas.

Cubicle Length

The aim of this is to ensure adequate lunging space for the cow, to encourage usage of the cubicles. Measurements differ depending on the position of the cubicle.

  • against an outside wall = 2.7 m
  • an inner row = 2.4m
  • double row, shared lunging space = 2.3m

Cubicle width – should be a minimum of 1.15m. Can be increased for larger cows, though avoid being too wide as cows will turn and dung at the head of the cubicle. The table below shows suggestions for different cow weights/sizes;

Cow weight (kg) Cubicle length including kerb Cubicle clear width
350—500 2 m 1—1.1 m
500—600 2.15 m 1.1—1.15 m
600—700 2.3—2.5 m 1.15—1.2 m
700—800 2.5—2.7 m 1.2—1.3 m


Cubicle Slope

An upwards slope of 5% from back to front is ideal to avoid urine pooling, especially if impermeable beds (rubber mats) are used. Dung pats should be removed twice daily.

Cubicle Step

Needs to be no greater than 20 cms , including any mats, so that cow is happy to step back from the bed with confidence. But it has to be high enough to avoid contamination from scrapers or flushing systems. Avoid any heelstone as this will prevent drainage and can damage hocks.

Cubicle Bedding

Must be clean and comfortable for the cows. There are several different types available;

Sawdust/chopped straw – can be a good environment for bacterial build up and so will predispose to mastitis. Bed at least once daily with approx. 0.5kg dry material per cow.

Mats/mattresses – mattresses seem to be favoured by the cows. They are comfortable, easy to clean and reduce heat loss. Sand – Very comfortable, clean, dry and is a very poor medium for bacterial growth, so ideal for reducing levels of environmental mastitis.

Cubicle Divisions

Should allow for good lunging space to front and side with head rail approx 1.2m up from the brisket board. The Clearway cantilevered variety (diagram above) are ideal.

Access Passes Between Cubicles

Whatever method of scraping is used, it is important to have the right amount of space between rows of cubicles and feed barriers. Always allow at least 3m between rows of cubicles, though this can be increased up to 4.5m if for very large cows or a very long row of cubicles. A slope of around 1.5% allows for easy flow of solids when scraping. This can be increased up to 5% , depending on the site levels.

Slatted Floors

Floor should be flat for slats to be used. Max size gap is 4cms. Must be strong enough to bear weight of farming vehicles .

Cleaning Frequency

If using tractor, scrape twice daily while cows out being milked. Automatic scrapers should pass every 2 hours. The most important area to keep clean is directly adjacent to the end of the cubicle, as this will have a direct effect on cow cleanliness, especially feet.

Cross Passes

These should be concentrated at the end of cubicle rows, to avoid a “crossroads” type of effect with too much traffic. The main passes should be 3.6m wide and 4.8m if there is a water trough. Supplementary passes can be provided every 20 cubicles at a width of 2.4m. Should be kept clean with same frequency as other passes. This can be made easier with the provision of tipping water troughs, water trough valves/hoses, etc.

Feed Barriers

These are very common on farms, and their correct design and installation will help to improve feed intakes and reduce lameness. As with the cubicles, the design and dimensions are very important. Cows naturally graze with one foot in front of the other, and although this isn’t possible at a feed barrier, good design can reduce the negative effects on lameness. Feed space and stance width – need at least 4m for large cows, increasing to 4.5m if it backs onto cubicles. Space per cow is 0.7m per cow along the face, which can be reduced to 0.45m if feeding is ad lib.

Feed Troughs

If feed floor is at same height as the cow passage, excess pressure is put onto the feet and can lead to overgrowth of horn and sole ulcers. Therefore feed trough should be 0.1—0.15m above the foot height. The trough can also have a 20% incline to help keep feed close to the cow and prevent her from pushing feed out of reach and “sorting” mixed feeds.

Neck Rails

This is important in it’s positioning. It shouldn’t really touch the cow, or it will lead to neck calluses/abscesses, but merely act as a barrier to prevent cows and heifers from climbing into the feed trough. Somewhere in the region of 1.5m should be fine, and set in from trough edge approx. 0.1m.