Web resource for animal-friendly barn design

There is a growing consumer concern over the well-being of the animals producing our food. Among these concerns is the issue of housing, and the disease and injuries associated with it. Dairy farmers of Wisconsin now have free access to a web site to support them in building better and more animal friendly facilities for their cows.

The Dairyland Initiative, developed by Drs. Nigel Cook and Ken Nordlund at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, combines the most relevant research in health, production and behavior with years of field experience in housing design into a web-based information center and building plan assessment program.

TheDairylandInitiative.vetmed.wisc.edu offers building decision trees – called the ‘Wisconsin Blueprint' – for adult cattle and heifer housing, utilizing the most up-to-date standards for design. Virtual tours provide interactive guides of new facilities, including floor plans, stall dimensions, photographs, key performance measures, and streaming video, providing farmers and their teams the opportunity to see and decide what to build from the comfort of the farm office. Barn plans may then be submitted for a ‘Cow or Calf Comfort Risk Assessment,’ performed for a nominal fee. Recommendations are returned to the management team, pointing out areas of high risk to consider changing before the barn is built.

The main goal of the Dairyland Initiative is to incorporate as many research supported biological standards as possible to enhance the current engineering practices while producing a facility that is both economically viable and welfare friendly. In addition, they aim to:

  • Accommodate cows and calves in groups which are socially stable over time, and manage groups to minimize movements between them.


  • Wherever possible provide exposure to natural light and ventilation, but to utilize mechanical assistance where needed


  • Provide a comfortable place to rest for a target period of 12 h/d for both lame and non-lame cows which is designed to meet the space requirement of the animal, and not inhibit rising or lying movements


  • Provide enough feed and water space for each animal to optimize metabolic health


  • Design barn layouts that do not result in undue time out of the pen and minimize trauma to the cows' feet


  • Minimize morbidity and mortality rates

Web-based tools

In addition to the Blueprints’ answers to common construction questions, interactive tools help in the design process:

Transition Cow Pen Size Calculator

Estimate current and future housing needs for dry cows through post-fresh pens, based on herd size and management practices.

Mattress to Sand Bedding Conversion Partial Budget Calculator

Compare sand and mattress stalls, using a herd’s production and health data.

Heifer Facility Needs Calculator

Estimate heifer facility needs based on herd size and management practices.

Dairy facility design decision trees

Adult cow housing decision tree

More than 20 branches make up the decision-making tree for adult cow facilities, including:

1. Manure handling

2. Transition cows

3. Group size

4. Bedded pack

5. Barn layout

6. Stall layout

7. Overstocking

8. Ventilation

9. Roof insulation

10. Alleyway dimensions

11. Floor grooving/rubber flooring

12. Water needs

13. Feed bunk

14. Heat abatement

15. Lighting systems

16. Stall surface

17. Mattress to sand remodeling

18. Freestall dimensions

19. Brisket locators

20. Divider loops

21. Neck rails

22. Tiestall remodeling

23. Voluntary milking systems

Replacement heifer housing decision tree

At least 10 branches make up the decision-making tree for new replacement animal facilities, including:

1. Facility needs (heifer numbers)

2. Nursing calf housing

3. Bedding

4. Calf pen design

5. Air hygiene

6. Ventilation

7. Groups

8. Bedded packs

9. Freestall dimensions

10. Design for management

Wisconsin dairy farmers have free access to the web site. Consulting professionals and farmers outside of Wisconsin may purchase a two-year web access subscription for $100. (The measurements are also in metrics.)

Visit the web site Dairyland Initiative


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Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
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Writer at Milkproduction.com

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