Cow comfort: 16) Barn planning

When building a new barn or renovating an existing facility, one key aim is to create a comfortable environment for the cow to live in. A second important goal is to create an environment that stays relatively clean and dry, to minimise the risks of foot and udder infections that can result from contact with urine or faeces in the bedding or on the floor.

A new barn should fit the environment in which it is built. Some points to think about are:

  • Farm routine
  • Region
  • Availability of products (materials)
  • Climate

Almost every country in the world has its own recommendations for the dimensions of barn equipment. That’s because of the different sizes of the local dairy breeds and the differences within a breed between countries. In general, you should work from the following dimensions, adjusted to local circumstances and breeds:

  • Cubicle length: 2.30 to 2.55 metres
  • Cubicle width: 1.15 to 1.25 metres
  • Neck rail height: 1.80 to 2.00 metres (measured on the diagonal)
  • Feed alley: 4 to 5 metres
  • Alley between cubicles: 3.0 to 4.5 metres
  • Passages: 2.0 to 3.5 metres (depending on positioning of water troughs)
  • Space: 4.5 to 5.5 square metres per cow

Checkpoints for barn planning in general

  • Ensure good earthing of all metal parts in the barn, because cows are very sensitive to stray voltage (leaking current).
  • Provide a safe environment for cows and people. For example, ensure there. are no potentially dangerous sharp edges and have escape routes available for people and for submissive cows.


  • Have good bedding for good resting conditions and make it easy for standing up or lying down.
  • Ensure enough space for cows to stand up (lung forward), lie down and rest.
  • Good ventilation in front of the cubicles is important because otherwise a cow will not lie down.


  • A floor must be hygienic, comfortable to walk on and have an even, skidresistant surface without being too abrasive.
  • To reduce the chance of hoof injuries, dairy cows should be kept in conditions that allow their hooves to stay dry as much as possible.
  • Crossovers or escape alleys should be established on each end of a cubicle section. If the cubicle row consists of more than 20 cubicles, the farmer must establish additional crossovers to achieve free cow circulation.

Feeding table

  • There should be about 60 to 76 centimetres of space per cow and enough room for all the cows to come and eat at the same time.
  • The feed bunk should be 10 to15 centimetres higher than the floor where the cows are standing.


  • Three to four metres of space is needed around the water tank to reduce pushing and shoving.
  • There should be one water trough available for every 15 to 20 cows.
  • In tied-up barns, there should be one water bowl per cow.


  • Keep fresh air circulating.
  • Exchange stale barn air for fresh, outside air uniformly throughout the barn.
  • The ventilation system should prevent high humidity in winter and excessive heat build-up in summer.


Use lamps, windows or roof plates to ensure there is sufficient light for the cows. The basic rule is that you need 150L to 200L during the light period.

Safety – earthing

Cows have a low inner resistance and are able to sense very low amounts of voltage and current. Normally cows react to a current intensity of less than five to seven milliamperes and a voltage intensity of at least four to ten volts. Ensure good earthing of all metal parts in the barn such as fences and cubicles, so the cows are not exposed to leaking current.