Passage widths and layouts

Typically, the main types of passages in a cow house are the feed passage, cubicle passage and cross-over passages. The purpose of a passage within a cubicle building is to facilitate cow movement, allow the cows to loaf and exhibit social interaction as well as allow the removal of slurry. All passages should be designed to ensure that there are no dead ends where a dominant cow can interact aggressively with a subordinate cow.

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

Wide passages increase loafing area and can improve positive social interactions and reduce negative aggression interactions between cows. In hot weather, wide passages can be difficult to scrape as slurry is spread over a wider area and can dry out more quickly.

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. It is recommended that there should be no more than 25 cubicles without a crossover passage. The crossover passages should be constructed to the same height as the surrounding cubicle beds to promote ease of cleaning.

In order to provide uninterrupted cow flow, an intermediate crossover passage without water troughs should be at least 2.4m wide, when a drinking trough is installed in the crossover passage, the width should be increased to a minimum of 3.6m to allow cows to pass behind other animals who are drinking.

Feed passages also have to facilitate vehicle movement. In particular, farms that rely on forage boxes/complete diet feeders, need to ensure that the machine can enter the building and work easily once inside. As the capacity of these trailed feed dispensers increases, the dimensions also increase and consideration should be given to possible future requirements.

It is also important to take account of the driving skills of the operator. Minimising all building dimensions to reduce costs may appear prudent. However, if these tight dimensions are marginal, not only will the time taken for the tasks to be carried out increase, but damage could occur to staff, cows or machinery.