Housing for dairy cows

Calf 001

Most farmers provide housing for their cows for part, if not all, of the year. Such housing might be required to provide animals with protection from adverse climatic conditions, to confine animals when grazing is not possible, or may simply allow easier control and management of the herd.

Many housing systems were installed in the 1970s and 1980s before the influence of the Holstein cow was felt on the UK dairy herd. The modern dairy cow is considerably larger in stature and in many cases the animals have simply outgrown the housing system.

There are many farms where cows are housed for a significant period of the lactation and consequently shortcomings in housing systems become more noticeable. This can create significant adverse effects on animal health, welfare and production.

If a housing system is to be successful, it must provide for the spatial and behavioural needs of the cows. To achieve this, it is important to understand how an animal behaves when performing routine activities such as drinking, feeding, lying, rising and walking.

The design of the system and the level of management applied to the system can affect the health of the cows. The cleanliness of the housing and animals can have an impact on both lameness and mastitis.

Irrespective of the production system selected, to maximise performance of the cows the accommodation must provide the cow's most basic needs. At a minimum, it must provide a comfortable, well drained lying area, shelter from adverse weather and space to allow the animal to move freely around without undue risk of injury. The cows also need access to wholesome food and water.

Apart from the immediate requirement that any investment in new facilities or improvement of existing facilities must be financially justified, it is critical that the system fully complies with the relevant animal welfare legislation and recommendations and the requirements of The Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme .