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Dairy Building Design Considerations

October 20, 2020

One topic that always goes down well for a discussion group meeting and gets farmers talking is ‘dairy building design’.  It is not necessary to be planning a major development in the future for this subject to be relevant.  In fact, according to Mark Scott, CAFRE Senior Dairying Development Adviser, many have carried out refurbishment and reconfiguration projects in the last few years that have revolutionised cow flow, feeding and environment for their cows.  These projects will undoubtedly deliver milk in the tank through improved cow comfort, lower levels of lameness and increased lying time. 

Mark suggests that there are four main factors when considering any cow house refurbishment or new build.

Cubicle dimensions and passage widths

These design features must be considered before any decisions are taken about overall shed widths and if reconfiguring existing sheds it is essential not to compromise the dimensions of cubicles or passages.  As a rough rule a cubicle bed against the wall should be 2.7m, a central double row bed with shared lunging should be 4.8m and an open fronted single bed should be 2.4m long and each should be 1.15m wide.  Passage widths between rows of cubicles should be 3.6m wide and where cows are standing feeding with cubicle exits to their rear these passages should be 5.2m wide.  For the standard cow house consisting of one row of cubicles against the wall and one double row with feeding through the external side the basic internal width needs to be 16.3m.

Passage widths and cubicle bed lengths should never be compromised in a dairy building
Feed space

Here Mark recommends that the more feed space available the higher feed intakes will be and again this puts milk in the tank.  Where heifers are mixed with cows, increased feed space is essential if the heifer is to feed when she wants and not just after more dominant cows have had their fill.  As a minimum for the modern dairy cow 30cm of feed space is required where ad lib easy feeding is managed.  Using the standard design of three rows of cubicles and feeding along one external wall this will provide around 45cm of feed space per cow which will lead to improved intakes and reduced bullying at the feed face.  With this increased feed space above the minimum – more economical feed fence options are adequate such as simple post and rail due to the decrease in bullying.

Drinkers should be positioned so as not to disrupt cow flow and should be easily emptied and cleaned.

Most farmers will rarely consider ventilation before ordering the steel work for a shed.  Although most new or reconfigured dairy cow buildings are now more open around the sides this ‘inlet’ area should not be confused with overall ventilation.  For optimum ventilation adequate ‘outlet’ is also essential and the ideals place for this outlet is along the ridge of the building.  Rules of thumb will not work here but speak to your CAFRE Dairy Adviser who can calculate inlet and outlet ventilation requirements of your building and give you recommendations.

A shed designed with 3 rows of cubicles and external feeding, giving 45cm feed space per cow with simple post and rail feeding and clearly showing the outlet ventilation through a protected open ridge.
  • Other considerations

There are many other considerations that will be specific to your farm yard and your cows when it comes to building design.  Some of these will be placement of drinkers, cow flow in and out of the parlour, crossover passages and dealing with slurry.  Your CAFRE Dairy Adviser has the knowledge and skill to guide you in these areas and continues to be available throughout the various periods of restriction.