Cubicle design and cubicle bedding

There are a number of cubicle features that can affect welfare. Ideally, a cubicle will allow an animal to lie down and rest without colliding or rubbing against partitions.  

Poorly designed and managed cubicles can lead to poor occupancy, wet and soiled cubicle beds, increased risk of udder disease and lameness as well as physical damage to the cows.

When a cow rises from a lying position, she lunges forward to transfer the weight from her hindquarters onto her front legs. She will then raise her hindquarters before raising her forequarters. To accommodate this transfer of weight, the cow thrusts her head forward as she lunges. Observations have shown that a cow requires between 0.7 and 1.0m of space in front of her to rise easily. If the forward lunging space is restricted, she will have difficulty in rising.

Number of cubicles

The Red Tractor Scheme and the FAWC Report require that a cubicle housing system has a minimum of one cubicle per cow.  A good practice guideline would be to provide at least 5% more cubicle than cows (eg a 100 cow group should have access to 105 cubicles).

Number of rows of cubicles

When considering a cubicle housing system with a central feed passage, the system is likely to be either a two-row system (two rows of cubicles accessing one section of feed stance) or a three-row system (three rows of cubicles accessing one section of feed stance).

Typically, a three-row system has a 25% reduction in passage dimensions when compared with a two-row system. It should be noted that the loafing area in a three-row system will be reduced in size, although there may be sufficient loafing space to comply with the varying standards and codes of practice, there will be other considerations such as cow behaviour, aggression and feed intake.

Passage widths and layout

The Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme requires an adequate loafing area of at least 120% of the cubicle lying area. To achieve this figure within the confines of a feed/sleep building, the following passage widths are required:

  1. Passage between rows of cubicles should be a minimum of 3.0m with an ideal width of 3.6m
  2. Cross-over passages without a water trough should be 2.4m wide
  3. Cross-over passages with a water trough should be 3.6m wide
  4. Feed passage in a three-row system where one row of cows are backing out of cubicles onto the feed passage should be at least 5.2m wide
  5. Feed passage in a two-row system should be at least 4.6m wide

Crossover passages should be installed at the end of every row of cubicles to remove dead ends. A crossover passage should also be located at approximately every 20 cubicle places, depending on building layout and size.

Cubicle dimensions

The required dimensions of a cubicle are dependent on the size of the cow. Previously this has been best-estimated using body weight, although cubicle partition design can affect this.

Cubicle length -An appropriate cubicle length will prevent soiling of the bedding and reduce risk of injury. Cubicles that are too short for the cow or parititons with rear support legs (eg Newton Rigg) may cause rubbing and swelling on the hocks. The total length of the cubicle should provide body space, headspace and lunging space.

Guidelines on cubicle length

Weight of cow


Total length of bed (m)

(open front)

Total length of bed (m)

(closed front)

Total length of bed (m)

(Head to head)













Cubicle width - The cubicle must be wide enough for the cow to lie comfortably but narrow enough to prevent her turning around. The cubicle also needs to accommodate the natural rising behaviour of the cow. EFSA states that cubicle width should be at least 1.8 times cow hip width. 

Slope - A consistent fall of 2-3% across the length of the cubicle bed is satisfactory, any steeper than this and the bedding becomes hard to retain.


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