Barn design from an animal behavior perspective

When planning a functional barn for milk production, a lot of factors need to be considered. The environment should be rational, safe and healthy for both staff and animals. The barn should promote a good production but also allow the cows to behave naturally to sustain a good welfare. Knowledge regarding behavioural responses of different building designs may contribute to the development of new planning strategies for dairy barns. In 2010 Erika Lindgren, now milk production advisor at Rådgivarna, made a review of established notions concerning the behavioural responses of cows to group sizing, cubicle planning, design of feeding area, floors, transfer alleys as well as milking facilities and the influence of noise.

The review only considered adult animals used for milk production in loose housing and is strictly finite to the behaviour of the animal in relation to building design.

These are the Take home messages from the review:

  • Decide on optimal group size according to functioning management practices for feeding and milking but a limit of 100 cows per group could be good to draw since this is the believed number of individuals a cow can recognize. Lower this limit if the group is subjected to frequent mixing with new animals.


  • A more holistic type of research is required to assess cattle behaviour in relation to barn design, and should not be finite to technical details.


  • Look to the subordinate cows, they are generally the ones most affected by inadequate barn design. Provide enough cubicles and space at the feed bunk, together with sufficient partitions, which can increase the personal distance to other individuals.


  • Floors should be comfortable and non-slip so that cows can behave naturally but must always be accompanied by well designed cubicles to avoid cows lying in the alleys.


  • Transfer alleys should be single filed, curved with solid walls and present a uniform appearance without “dead ends”.


  • Some individual cows prefer a certain entering side into the parlor but it does not seem to be a very strongly motivated behaviour.


  • Try to minimize noise levels as much as possible, both for the workers environment but also for the cows since the knowledge of behavioural effects of noise on cattle is scarce.

For the whole report Dairy Barn Design from an Ethological perspective, by Erika Lindgren, click here.


Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
85 articles

Writer at

Read more »