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.

The body weight of an animal can be estimated by measuring the chest girth and the diagonal body length.

Relationship between chest girth, diagonal body length and weight

Cow body weight

(kg)

Chest girth

(m)

Diagonal body length

(m)

375

1.68

1.36

425

1.75

1.41

475

1.81

1.46

525

1.87

1.50

575

1.93

1.54

625

1.98

1.58

675

2.04

1.62

725

2.09

1.65

775

2.14

1.68

825

2.18

1.72

Research has concluded that cubicle usage increases with increased cubicle size. However, the dimensions required for a cubicle will depend on the cubicle location (eg against an outside wall, open front facing a feed passage or head-to-head facing another cow).

Cubicle length

The total length of the cubicle should provide body space, headspace and lunging space.

Cubicles which are open front (either facing a feed passage or head-to-head) allow a cow to extend past the cubicle perimeter when rising, either by placing her head in the adjacent cubicle in a head-to-head arrangement or by utilising the extra space available in the feed passage. Cubicles which are closed at the front have some type of barrier which prevents the cow from lunging outside the perimeter of the cubicle. These are often the outside cubicles facing a wall.

When rising naturally, a cow will choose to lunge forward. When a cow can lunge forward, she will lie straighter in the cubicle. Cows which are forced, by inadequate cubicle length, to lunge to the side will often lie at an angle in the cubicle.

If a closed front cubicle is too short, the cow may respond by lunging to the side or rising in a dog/horse fashion. Selecting a cubicle partition which allows this sideways lunging action can be helpful, although this can encourage cows to lie diagonally. When cows lie diagonally, they are more likely to soil the rear of the cubicle which results in dirtier cows. 

UK (1995) researchers concluded that a Friesian/Holstein cow at pasture required a lying space approximately 2.4m long and 1.2m wide. They suggested that a cow required an additional 0.6m length to facilitate lunging. When these parameters were considered, it was reported that 87% of cubicles in the study were too short and 50% either too wide or too narrow. However, cow size has increased in the intervening period and such dimensions would now be considered too small. More up-to-date research is required in this area.

It is critical that the length of the cubicle bed is correct. The difference in required bed length when cows have either an open or closed front cubicle is demonstrated below.

Guidelines on cubicle length

Weight of cow

(kg)

Total length of bed (m)

(open front)

Total length of bed (m)

(closed front)

Total length of bed (m)

(Head to head)

550

2.10

2.40

4.20

700

2.30

2.55

4.60

800

2.40

2.70

4.80

 

As the length of the bed increases, it is important that the length of the partition increases. There should be around 0.35m from the back of the partition to the cubicle kerb. If this distance is greater, cows may walk along the back of the cubicle or try and reverse into the bed.

The assertion has been that with head-to-head cubicles, the length of each cubicle can be somewhat reduced due to the potential of cows sharing the common lunging space, studies have shown that this leads to bobbing action by both cows, causing the cow opposite to rise as well.

One cubicle size does not fit all cows and, therefore, a compromise has to be reached where cow groups include animals of various size and parity.

Cubicle width

It is important that a cubicle is wide enough to allow the cow to recline and rise easily.  If the cubicle width is excessive, cows will tend to lie at an angle in the cubicle or some smaller cows may lie backwards in the cubicle. Both will lead to an increase in faecal soiling of the bed. The main cause of cows lying at an angle with wide cubicle dimensions is thought to be insufficient cubicle length. If the cubicle length is correct then cows will lie straight.

The width of the cubicle will be determined in part by the choice of cubicle partition.  If the partition fitted has a rear support leg, the partition should be installed with a clear distance between partitions of 1.2m. 

EFSA states that cubicle width should be at least 1.8 times cow hip width.