Housing systems

Housing options

In the UK there are three main options available for housing dairy cattle.

  • Cubicles
  • Straw (loose) yards
  • Kennels

When selecting a system, it is important to consider the initial construction costs, ongoing management and maintenance costs as well as the animal health and welfare implications. There is also the added consideration of environmental factors, land and nutrient management.

Cubicles and/or straw yards are most commonly used in GB. There are advantages and disadvantages to both housing systems. Both systems can work equally well with regard to cow welfare and productivity, with much of the variation due to management decisions and actions.

Comparison of cubicles and straw yards

 

 Cubicles

Straw yards 

Risk of lameness/leg damage

Increased

Decreased

Risk of damage to knees and hocks

Increased

Decreased

Risk of environmental mastitis

Decreased

Increased

Stocking rate

Increased

Decreased

Quantity of bedding required

Decreased

Increased

Flexibility with bedding materials

Yes

No

 

 

 

 

 

 

The incidence of lameness and the number of injuries to cows and heifers due to less aggressive behaviour will be reduced by providing more lying and loafing area.

Space allowances (m2/cow) in straw yards 

Source

Bedded area

Loafing area

Total

The Red Tractor (700kg cow)

5.75

3.0

8.75

RSPCA (750kg cow)

7.0

3.0

10.0

BS5502 (750kg cow)

7.5

3.0

10.5

DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan (750kg cow)

9.4

3.0

12.4

Stocking rates should be calculated assuming a bedded area of at least 7.5m2/cow, where the design of the straw yard is optimal.

This should be increased to around 9.5m2/cow if the yard design is slightly compromised (eg narrow access, poorly located water trough, excessive bedded area width) or there are concerns about availability of clean, dry straw.

The DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan (DMCP) which promotes best practice advises that space allowances should be calculated based on milk production (eg lying area of 1.25m2/cow per 1000 litres/cow/annum). With average milk yields at around 7,500 litres/cow/annum, this equates to 9.4m2/cow, ie a 25% increase in area above BS5502.  The DMCP recommends loafing area of 3.0m2/cow, providing a total space allowance of 12.4m2/cow.

With any housing system, there will be a large variation in quantity of bedding used. The table below gives an indication of the bedding quantity which may be required in differing housing situations with cow comfort and cow cleanliness as the underlying aim.

 Bedding type and quantity

Bedding type

Daily use

kg/cow/day

Total use (180 day winter)

kg/cow/winter

Straw (bedded yard)

20

3600

Straw (chopped) mat

2.5

450

Sawdust - kiln dried

1.0

180

Sawdust - fresh

2.2

396

Sand

16

2880

Recycled paper - based material

2.2

396

Lime ash

1.0

180

Gypsum

0.5

90

Regardless of what type of housing is constructed, it should be well designed, maintained and managed.



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