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. 

When there is not a cubicle for every cow, lying time reduces, aggressive interactions between cows increase, incidences of lameness and mastitis both increase.

Overstocking of cows (ie more cows than cubicles) can result in:

  1. Additional soiling of hooves and bedding. One extra cow can contribute an extra 60 litres of slurry each day. This extra slurry is then distributed across the flooring surface resulting in increased hoof soiling which in turn increases the amount of slurry trampled onto the cubicle bed.
  2. Reduced lying times because there are not enough cubicles for all cows to lie down together.
  3. Increased lameness and claw lesions as a result of increased standing times as a direct result of cows not being able to lie down because of the lack of cubicles.

When cubicle systems are designed and built, the feed space allowance per cow and available water troughs should be calculated using a known number of cows.  Increasing stocking rate above this threshold can have a negative impact on dry matter intake and water consumption.

Animals which are lower in the social hierarchy spend between 10 and 45% of their day standing in the passages. As a result, subordinate cows suffer more sole, interdigital and heel lesions. Providing additional cow places in the cubicle system will allow these cows to lie without risk of aggressive interactions.

There is considerable debate regarding the location of cubicles within a building and how this can affect occupancy. Studies have shown that cubicles closest to a feed passage were occupied for 68% of the day compared with only 48% occupancy for cubicles which were further from the feed area. In addition, cubicles at the end of rows were occupied 25% less than cubicles located in the centre of the row.

There should be 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.

Each animal generates a similar amount of slurry in a 24-hour period. A two-row system has 20% more surface area than a three-row system, this means that the accumulated slurry is distributed over a larger surface area helping to reduce the depth of the accumulated waste.

A critical component of any environmental mastitis programme is the requirement to keep cows standing on clean concrete for 30 minutes after milking, to allow sufficient time for the teat orifice to close. Although this can be achieved with a three-row system, it requires the use of electric fences or other moveable barriers to prevent cows accessing the cubicles which are adjacent to the feed face. Two-row systems utilising perimeter feeding and two sets of head-to-head cubicles may also have the issue of keeping cows from lying down in the cubicles directly after milking.