Dairy barn design from an ethological 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.

The aim of this report is to give 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. Due to a restricted time scope, this report will be delimited to the few aspects mentioned above, which are closely related to the tasks that the department GCPD – Global Customer Project Design, as well as other entities involved in planning and design of dairy farms, are managing at DeLaval International. The review will only consider adult animals used for milk production in loose housing and is strictly finite to the behaviour of the animal in relation to building design. Hence, the physiological aspects as well as management issues will not be discussed to any greater extent.

Group sizing

Milking herds need to be divided into smaller groups if good herd management is to be achieved (Grant & Albright, 2001). Such division facilitates cow movement and allows for matching rations with nutrient requirements. It also enables proper observation of the cows. Traditionally cows have been managed in quite small groups (up to 100 cows) but increasing herd sizes and improvements in milking and feeding systems raises the question of optimal group size.

Grant and Albright (2001) have pointed out 9 factors that should be considered when choosing optimal group size in a herd. These are: 1) feed bunk space and competition for feed, water and cubicles, 2) social interactions among cows and how they are affected by group size, 3) space available to the cow, 4) size of holding area and capacity of milking parlour, 5) animal body size and age, 6) body condition, 7)  DIM, 8) cubicle size and equity (every cubicle is likely to be used by the cow), 9) adequacy of ventilation. All these factors need to be considered when deciding on number of cows to place in each group within an existing facility. However, when designing a new facility, how large groups can be accepted?

It is traditionally considered that the group size should not exceed the number of cows an individual can recognize (Grant, 2007). Arave and Albright (1981) proposed that diversity within the group in sex, age and size would enhance recognition of herdmates although recognizable numbers could be difficult to verify due to variable genetic and environmental backgrounds of herdmates. A maximum limit of cows that can recognise each other will minimize aggression so that hierarchy does not need to be established over and over again (Grant, 2007). This is however based on a theory that fighting stops when hierarchy is established and that hierarchy then remains stable (only 4% of the dominance relationships are reassessed). Another more dynamic, and according to the author more realistic scenario is that there exists a continued and fluctuating level of fighting/aggression and some individuals thrive, not by winning fights, but by not participating. Further, the author believes there is a lack of ability to recognize all individuals when the group size is larger than approximately 100 cows and subsequently subgroups are formed within larger groups.

Kondo et al. (1989) investigated the relationship between social encounters and group size in groups ranging from 8 to 91 cows. The results showed a significant linear increase of combative behaviour as group size increased. The study did however only involve established groups and provided no information about the situation during mixing with unfamiliar animals. Research on pigs has shown indications that an increased group size reduces aggression at grouping (Bøe & Færevik, 2003). These results were interpreted as a cost/benefit approach, implying that individuals will stay away from fighting unless the likelihood of winning is high. Even though the aggression level is generally lower during grouping of unfamiliar cattle than unfamiliar pigs, there may exist a correlation between group size and level of social encounters also in cattle. However in cattle, there are no studies that have focused on the effect of group size on mixing of unfamiliar animals.

The maximum group size is in practice limited by the milking capacity and size of the holding pen (Grant & Albright, 2001). Time waiting for milking should be minimized since it involves crowding and time away from feed, water and resting areas. The cows should spend no longer than 45 minutes to 1 hour in the waiting area with 2 to 3 milkings a day according to the author.

Cubicle planning

A lot of research has focused on the cow behaviour in relation to technical design of cubicles (von Keyserlingk & Weary, 2009). The design of cubicles has two objectives that do not always agree. To keep the cubicles as clean as possible, the partitions, neck-rail and brisket bar need to make sure to position the cow straight and keep them close to the curb to prevent cubicles from becoming contaminated with manure. The cubicle should also encourage the cow to lie down and rest, since lying is an important natural behaviour to the cow and impaired lying time can reduce cow welfare but also milk yield.

Research has shown that cubicles which provide more space and a soft surface results in higher occupation but also increases the amount of manure in the cubicles (Wagner-Storch et al., 2003; Fulwider & Palmer, 2005; Tucker et al., 2004; Tucker et al., 2005; Tucker et al., 2006a). Hence the technical design of the cubicle is a major determinant for the usage of it. However, although all cubicles are seemingly identical, the cows seem to utilize some cubicles rather than others in a barn, depending on their location.

In a study by Gaworski et al. (2003) the row closest to the feed alley was occupied 41 % more frequently than the cubicles in more remote rows. In each row, the cubicles sited in the middle were used 12 % more often than those cubicles located on the periphery of the row (i.e. either near a wall or fence). Natzke et al. (1982) also found the centre cubicles to be more popular than those on the periphery. Wagner- Storch et al. (2003) studied the cubicle usage in relation to six factors including: cubicle surface, length of time cows exposed to cubicle surface, cubicle location within cubicle base section, distance to water, row location and inside barn temperature. Their results agreed with previous mentioned studies where the cubicles with the highest lying and occupation percentages where those not located at the end of a section and those that were situated on the outside row of the barn. The preference for the exterior rows could, according to the author, be due to the superior ventilation near the curtain sidewalls. The occupation rate also depended on base type, length of time cows exposed to cubicle surface and inside barn temperature. Sand and one type of mattress were significantly superior while rubber mats and concrete showed to be an inferior cubicle base. The authors also stated a need for further research to determine the effects of fans and sprinklers on cubicle utilization. Tanida et al. (1984) found that within rows facing cubicles in the adjacent alley, the central cubicles were significantly more utilized than the peripheral ones, while there were no influence of location of cubicles facing a wall. The authors discussed climatic differences and social interactions with neighboring cows as causes for the preference of centrally located cubicles in rows opposite other cubicles.

Previous mentioned results imply that some cubicles are less desirable. This could also be a result of longer walking distances from the feeding area or the need to pass certain physical (e.g. narrow passages) or social obstructions (e.g. dominant cows) on their way to more distant cubicles (von Keyserlingk & Weary, 2009). von Keyserlingk and Weary (2009) hypothesized that these factors might partly explain the reduced user satisfaction and inferior production in barn designs that comprises more rows (e.g. 6 and 4 rows versus 2 and 3 row barns) found by Bewley et al. (2001), see figure 3 and 4 in appendix 1. It has also been suggested that cows seem to avoid facing each other when lying down since Arave and Walters (1980) found that every occasion of frequent usage of one cubicle was accompanied by light usage of the opposite cubicle.

Fregonesi and Leaver (2002) state that it is essential to provide one cubicle per cow to enable the cows to lay down whenever they want to. von Keyserlingk and Weary (2009) pointed to the fact that if some cubicles in a pen (a section within a free stall barn) seem unacceptable to the cow, cubicle availability might not look the same from the cows’ perspective as from the producers’ perspective. Fregonesi et al. (2007) reported that overstocking (less than one cubicle per cow) created a more uniform use of cubicle but produced reduced lying durations instead.

Potter and Broom (1987) investigated the effect of providing three connecting passageways compared to only one between the alleys. Reduced passageways did not increase the occurrence of competitive interactions (apart from one exception mentioned later) but the herdsman noted a reduced feed intake during the days with restricted passageways. The decreased feed intake was suggested to be due to some inhibition in cows moving to the feed barrier. It could also be a result of the greater effort in moving the increased distance from cubicles to food according to the author. When three passageways were provided, the central one was most frequently utilized. Despite this preference, the authors recommend, if there is only a possibility of one crossover in a section, that this should be located at the end of the cubicle row and not in the middle. This advice is based on the only observations of increased aggression during the period when the other two were closed. These observations were made in the floor sections adjacent to the central passageway. The authors believe this can be caused by the fact that the central passageway will be approached by cows coming from four directions instead of only two directions.

Brouk et al. (2003) investigated the effect of location of water access on water consumption in 2- and 4-row cubicle buildings. They found that in pens with only three cross alleys, the water through in the centre cross alley was most frequently used and then the through at the pen exit compared to the troughs placed at the far end of the pens. Further, the water troughs located adjacent to the feed alley was more popular than those in the cow alley. The authors recommend to widen the centre alley to 4.9 m and include a minimum of two water troughs to make sure sufficient water is available.

Feeding area

An optimal design of the feeding area is important to promote as large voluntary dry matter intake as possible to high producing dairy cows fed ad libitum. The physical design of the feed barrier is important since the cow has a naturally aggressive feeding drive (Grant, 2007). Hansen and Pallesen (1998) observed that cows voluntarily apply more than 500 pounds (227kg) of force against the feed barrier to reach as much feed as possible. Given that pressure over 225 pounds (102 kg) can cause acute damage to tissues, the force against feed barriers needs be avoided by well designed feeding spaces (Grant, 2007).

The available feed bunk space is a factor that has been shown to affect behaviour to a large extent. Traditionally the generally recommended feed bunk space for dairy cows has been 0.61 m (Grant & Albright, 2001). Yet recent research have shown that increasing the feeding space (up to 1 m) can improve access to feed, decrease time spent standing in the feeding area while not feeding and reduce competition, especially for cows low in rank (DeVries et al., 2004; DeVries & von Keyserlingk, 2006). Potter and Broom (1987) found that social rank affected the actual position at the feed barrier where high ranked cows often preferred sections at the far ends of the house. They suggested this could be due to a mutual repulsion of the most dominant animals and emphasized that a long feed barrier can better provide capacity for this behavioural trait.

Since cattle frequently displace each other while feeding by swinging and butting with their heads, the physical design of feed barriers can also affect the behaviour at the feed bunk. Endres et al. (2005) compared the effects of a headlock feed line versus a post-and-rail barrier. They found no differences in overall feeding time but the headlock barrier enabled more equal access to feed for cows during peak feeding periods and reduced the frequency of aggressive behaviours at the feed bunk. Providing additional partitions, “feed stalls”, has been shown to further improve access to feed and reduce the number of displacements at the feed bunk, especially for subordinate cows (DeVries & von Keyserlingk, 2006).

Floor design

As locomotion is an important natural behaviour for the cow, it is important to provide solid, non slipping floors that is comfortable to the cow (Telezhenko & Bergsten, 2005). Flooring can affect health as well as production and behaviour in cows (Fregonesi et al., 2004).

Telezhenko and Bergsten (2005) measured differences in locomotion behaviour on various types of flooring. They found that compared to a compressed sand surface, the cows walked more slowly on the slatted, crude concrete floor, with significantly shortened strides and with the rear feet positioned at a larger distance behind the 5 front ones. On solid, crude concrete floor, the speed did not differ considerably from the sand surface but the strides were shorter. When adding rubber mats, the stride and step length increased both on the solid as well as the concrete floor. These results are consistent with many other studies (e.g. Benz, 2002; Telezhenko et al., 2005; Haufe et al., 2009), which emphasizes the importance of soft flooring.

Most cows do also prefer to walk and stand on soft rubber than concrete flooring when given the opportunity to choose (Telezhenko et al., 2007). Platz et al. (2008) did clearly demonstrated that cows prefer the elasticity of rubber floors prior to crude concrete as well. This was expressed by a significant increase in number of steps and stride length and a clear preference for the rubberized side of the transit alley to the milking parlour. In addition, the study showed that on the floors covered with rubber mats, the frequency of mounting and caudal licking as well as licking while standing on 3 legs was increased. This is consistent with the work of Benz et al. (2002). Haufe et al. (2009) did however not find any significant differences in frequency of self-grooming nor the location or way of licking (standing on three or four legs) depending on floor type. The frequency of self-grooming was however generally low in that study. Another finding in the study by Platz et al. (2008) was increased observations of cows lying down to rest in the alleys when floors were covered with rubber. This behaviour may have been due to insufficient dimensions or uncomfortable properties of the cubicles.

Studies by Fregonesi et al. (2004) and Haufe et al. (2009) showed that cows tend to stand more in the alleys (instead of standing in the cubicles) with soft floor than hard floors but with only slight or no difference regarding time spent feeding and lying. Olsson (2005) did conversely find that cows housed with rubber floor in the walking area spent less time lying down and more time feeding.

There is very limited research performed on the effect of sloping floors on claw health and even less on behaviour. Vokey et al. (2005) investigated the effect on lameness of sloping floor in holding pen conditions. They reported a positive effect on claw health from standing for 45 to 90 minutes on a floor sloping 5 %, rising from tail to head compared to flat floor. However, Cook et al. (2004) ascribed the positive effects of sloping floor on claw health found in the study by Vokey et al. (2005) to the superior drainage effect rather than to claw wear.

Transfer alleys

The design of transfer alleys is important in the sense that cow traffic should flow without interruptions or injuries and with minimal requirements of handler interference. To optimally design these pathways, an understanding of what motivates and what alarms cattle is essential. Some research has been performed on handling facilities for transport and slaughter of beef cows which might also be applicable when designing transfer alleys for dairy barns.

Cattle have a 360° wide angle vision (Sjaastad et al., 2003) but their dept perception at ground level is limited when moving with their head up (Lemmon & Patterson, 1964). They are sensitive to harsh contrasts as a result sudden changes in floor texture or colour can cause cows to recoil (Grandin, 1980). This is why floors should be uniform in appearance, free from puddles and drain grates should be located outside the areas where cattle are walking. The floors also need to prevent the animals from slipping since this can cause injuries but also make the animals more agitated (Grandin, 1998) and stressed (Cockram & Corley, 1991).

Observations from a slaughterhouse suggest that the walls in transfer alleys should be solid. During the study, a group of cattle hesitated more when walls in a crowding pen constituted of bars where the cattle could see distractions outside while the same animals entered a single file race with less hesitation when the fences were covered (Grandin, 1980). If two alleys are located adjacent, with animals moving in the same direction, the fence between them should be constructed so that the animals can see each other since cattle tend to follow each other. To further avoid contrasts that may impede cow movement, the walls should be painted in one uniform colour (Grandin, 1980), see appendix 1, figure 2.

Since cattle will naturally walk in single file e.g. out on pasture, thus it can be advantageous to design races as single filed (Grandin, 2007). Grandin (1980) states, based on own experience that straight single file races are inefficient since the animals have an inclination to back up to the end of the race. Curved alleys prevent the animals from seeing what is coming and therefore keeps them moving ahead. The author also states that curved races make the cattle think they are returning from where they came from, and therefore willingly move forward. An alley should never turn too sharp, otherwise it will appear like a dead end to the animal that may then hesitate. It is also beneficial to keep the race entrance straight for about 3-4 m before the animals encounter the first curve so it does not look like a dead end (Grandin, 1985). As long as the race is constructed as a smooth continuous curve, an inside radius of 1.5 m will be enough to keep cattle moving easily, see appendix 1, figure 2.

All handling facilities should be presented with indirect, shadow-free light since anything that might cause sparkling reflections, shadows or present novel sights can cause cattle to recoil (Grandin, 2007). Lighting can also be utilized to encourage cattle to enter a dark race (Grandin, 2007) since animals are more likely to move from a darker place to a brighter one than vice versa (Grandin, 1997b). A major distraction to cows can also be air blowing down the alley into the faces of approaching animals, which should consequently be prevented when planning the races (Grandin, 1996).

Milking facility

Several researchers have presented strong evidence that there exist differences between individual cows in side preference and also in their consistency of side choice when entering a milking parlour (Gadbury, 1975; Hopster et al., 1998; Tanner et al., 1994, abstr.; da Costa & Broom, 2001; Grasso et al., 2007). This may affect the efficiency of milking parlours but also VMS milking since cows may idle to enable entrance from their preferred side.

Hopster et al. (1998) investigated if environmental factors that restrain cows from choosing preferred side would evoke stress reactions during milking. They found that cows with a consistent side choice took longer time to enter the parlour, paused eating during milking more often and had higher and more variable heart rate during the first minute of milking when milked from their nonhabitual side compared to control cows. However, no differences in milk production were identified between treatment groups. The authors concluded that even if the social environment or other environmental factors changed, a considerable proportion of the cows showed a consistent side preference. They also stated that dairy cows do not respond with stress reactions when they are inhibited from visiting their preferred side, but may feel at most uncomfortable. These results are consistent with those of da Costa and Broom (2001) who also studied welfare parameters and milk yield for cows with high consistency in side preference when they were milked from their non-preferred side of the milking parlour.

The causes of this apparent side preference in some individual cows is yet unknown but could include aspects of the cows’ social behaviour (Hopster et al., 1998), natural laterality (Tanner et al., 1994, abstr.; Phillips et al., 2003), the predictability of the daily management practice (Albright & Arave, 1997) or lack of symmetry in the milking parlour (da Costa & Broom, 2001). da Costa and Broom (2001) pointed out that other environmental condition e.g. noise, lighting and stray voltages also should be considered.


If animals are exposed to noise, this can cause auditory (hearing loss or nerve damage), nonauditory (hormonal release) or behavioural alterations (avoidance) depending on intensity and duration (Head et al., 1993). Cattle can hear sound ranging from 23 Hz to 35 kHz, with the greatest auditory sensitivity at 8 kHz (Heffner & Heffner, 1983, abstr.) while the human ear percept sound between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (NE, viewed 2010-01-29) and is most sensitive between 100 Hz and 3 kHz (Heffner & Heffner, 1983, abstr.). Swedish animal welfare regulations state that noise in animal facilities must not reach a level and frequency that negatively influences the health of the animals, where mechanical noise above 65 dB is only temporarily allowed (DFS 2007:5, saknr L100). This limit is to a large extent based on research on pigs where it has been shown that high noise levels can disturb the crucial vocalization between sow and piglets during suckling (Algers & Jensen, 1985; Berg, 2010-02-01 pers. comm.). The noise threshold to cause a behavioural response by animals is expected around 85 to 90 dB (Espmark et al. 1974; Manci et al. 1988) but the actual noise limit for cattle is though unknown (Anonymous, 2001)

Dairy cattle are subjected to a lot of noise in milking facilities, some which can be of high intensity (Arnold et al., 2007). These noises might startle the cows, invoking behavioural and physiological fear responses that may impair animal welfare and productivity. Arnold et al. (2007) investigated behavioural and physiological responses of dairy heifers exposed to pre tape-recorded milking facility noise. They found that the heifers responded to the noise with an escaping strategy, indicating fear, but with no corresponding increase in physiological response except for elevated heart rate during the initial exposure to noise. This indicates that the milking facility noise was no more stressing than the introduction to the experimental facility alone. In a following study (Arnold et al., 2008), the heifers’ preference behaviour towards milking facility noise was investigated through a Y-maze choice methodology. The results showed that the animals avoided noise when given the opportunity and when choosing the arm exposed to noise, an increased frequency of stopping, restlessness as well as increased amount of required handler intervention occurred. This may have significant effect for on-farm efficiency related to cow flow during the milking process.

Head et al. (1993) studied the effect of jet aircraft noise on productivity and behaviour of dairy cows. The cows were exposed to recorded jet subsonic fly-over noises of approximately 115 dB up to four times daily during 10-12 days. The noises caused no behavioural or yield responses. Even though the experimental cows were not previously accustomed to jet aircraft noise, the authors concluded that cows in general are exposed to a lot of noises from farm equipment, farm machinery and work activities which may have habituated them to the noise even though it exceed the presumed threshold (85-90 dB) for invoking behavioural response.

The current knowledge on the sensitivity of cattle to handle noise is limited (Appleby et al., 2008). However, many studies indicates that sudden, novel sounds seem to affect behaviour more than continuous high noise that can be predicted by the animals (Head et al., 1993; Grandin, 1997; Waynert et al., 1999; Arnold et al., 2007).


As Potter and Broom (1987) pointed out will the housing design affect cattle behaviour differently depending on social mixing, e.g. age structure of the group and frequency of movement of animals in and out of the group. An effect of house design which might be minor in a stable group could well be substantial in a group which is subjected to frequent social mixing. The question of optimal group size was raised as early as in 1975 (Gadbury, 1975) but the subject still lacks a lot of knowledge and should really be prioritized since herd sizes are still increasing. The difficulty of studying group size seems to be that every herd can react differently due to different group structure and different level of mixing frequencies. The limit of recognizable number of individuals stated by Grant (2007) at 100 cows could be a good landmark when designing the size of pens. If the group is subjected to frequent mixing with new animals, 100 cows might perhaps be too many. Management issues as feeding and milking facility capacity may also function as a guide to optimal group size with our current knowledge.

When deciding on the technical features (dimensions, placing of neck rail etc.) of cubicles the farmer need to be involved. Since the two goals, cleanliness and cow comfort, are difficult to combine, compromises need to be made. The decision must be based on the farmers own opinion on work load versus cow welfare. The overall barn design must of course be founded on total space availability as well as herd and group size. However, it seems like long narrow barns with few cubicle rows would be superior to short wide ones with many cubicle rows. An elongated barn facilitates a long feeding space and several connecting passageways that provides short distances to feed and water (appendix 1, figure 3 and 4). An exception to this is in VMS barns where a short, wide barn is preferable since it reduces the distance to milking. Since cows seem to prefer centrally located cubicles to more peripheral ones, long rows would reduce the numbers of undesirable cubicles. Yet, too long rows would increase distance to feed and water. Further research on optimal cubicle row length are needed in order to fully answer this question.

Potter and Broom (1987) emphasized the importance of providing sufficient feed space and cubicles to allow the herd to behave synchronized since this is the most persistent and least readily disrupted behavioural trait shown by a herd of cows. Whenever synchrony is prevented, the low ranked cows are generally suffering the most. It seems possible to minimize displacements and other social interactions during feeding by providing large bunk space/cow, headlock feed line instead of post-and-rail barrier and feed partitions. This is beneficial from a welfare perspective, especially for subordinate cows. However, the choice of feed bunk design must be put in a larger perspective where more than just aggression level need to be considered. For example, headlock feed line need extra space and feed partitions require elevated floors, which are more expensive and labour demanding since they need to be manually scraped. Again, VMS is the exception when designing a barn. Since behavioural synchronization is already disrupted in VMS, with scattered milking sessions, feeding space per cow can be provided.

Flooring seems to affect locomotion behaviour to a large extent where rubber covered floors provide a surface where cows feel comfortable enough to behave natural, e.g. long stride length and caudal licking. Research points unambiguously to a clear preference of rubber above crude concrete when cows are allowed to choose but also by different levels of occupation in alleys when cows are subjected to the different bases. Although rubber involves an additional cost, it might be beneficial both economically through reduced claw health problems and improved heat detection but also from a welfare perspective. Provision of comfortable floors must always be accompanied by well designed cubicles to avoid cows lying down to rest in the alleys.

Although little research has been carried out in the field of transfer alleys for dairy cows, results from investigations of cattle handling at slaughter plants could be useful for dairy farm design. Curved alleys might be complicated to achieve inside dairy barns since it creates spaces that can be difficult to use for other purposes. Nevertheless, when moving cattle between buildings on large farms, e.g. if the milking facility is located separately, the alleys could easily be designed in curves, or at least of several turns, to entice the cows to move forward (figure 2 in appendix 1). All efforts to remove obstructions as e.g. sharp turns (dead ends), contrasts and other novel sights that might cause cows to hesitate will pay off in a more efficient cow flow and reduced handler interference. Illumination is probably a field where many farms could make simple adjustments to improve cow movement in existing transfer alleys.

Accumulating evidence indicates that the cow’s choice of entering side into the parlour is not random for many cows. Side preference has not been studied in VMS barns but there may exist side preferences in some individuals when entering robots also. Restraining cows from choosing their preferred side does however not seem to affect neither welfare or production to any larger extent. The question can then be raised if it perhaps would be more efficient to not provide the cows with a choice? Since cows might stand and wait for their favourite entering side, the milking facility capacity might be reduced. In VMS barns, maybe only robots with the same entering side should be installed. Further research is needed on the effect of different placing of robots on their efficiency, as well as influence on milk production and stress parameters of the cows.

The effect of noise on cattle is another field that should be further investigated since no real noise limits has been established for livestock. It does however seem to be more stressful when cows are exerted to novel, non-predictable sounds than continuing, predictable sound of high intensity.

Take home messages

  • 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.

Appendix: Illustrations

Figure 1. Conceptual drawing of a transfer alley design to improve cow movement. Solid walls prevent cows from becoming distracted and stop. Walls and floors should be in a uniform colour and all kinds of contrasts, e.g. shadows and drains, should be avoided since it may impede cow movement.

Figure 2. Design of curved transfer alleys (A & B) between two buildings. The curves has got an inner radius of 2.8 m. Curves with an inner radius of between 5 m and 1.5 m has been shown to work well with adult cattle as long as the alley is well designed. Straight alley entrance (C) and rounded off corners (D) prevents the alley from appearing like a dead end to the cow.


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Erika Lindgren

Erika Lindgren
1 articles

Milk production advisor at Rådgivarna, Sweden.

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