Requirements for housing

Housing systems must provide:

  • A comfortable, well drained lying area
  • Shelter from adverse weather
  • Space to allow the animal to move, lie down and rise freely without undue risk of injury
  • Access to adequate food and water to maintain health and vigour.

For a housing system to be successful, it must provide for the spatial and behavioural needs of the cow.

The design of the system and the level of management applied can affect the health and welfare of the cows, this can have an influence on ailments such as lameness and mastitis.

Management systems

A number of different management systems have evolved in Great Britain (GB), these can be categorised into:

Year-round housing (or continuous housing)-cows are housed indoors throughout the year although heifer replacements are likely to be grazed at least during their first year. Cows may have access to an outside loafing area.

Seasonal housing- this is the more traditional (and still the most common) system where cows are housed during the autumn and winter (usually when ground conditions dictate), cows then graze from spring until autumn. Where grazed grass cannot meet the nutrient needs of the cows, the herd, or herd groups, will be buffer fed.

Zero-grazing- zero-grazing describes a system of pasture management. This system is most likely to be used when grass fields are difficult to access, making it more difficult for the cows to go out to graze. Instead, fresh grass is cut and fed indoors.

Grass-based system- grazing predominantly from early February to late November. Cows will either be housed for the remainder of the year or if soil type and/or farm layout allow, they may be outwintered on crops such as fodder beet. 

Woodchip pads-unlined, woodchip corrals or sealed/lined outwintering pads (OWPs), known also as "stand-off" pads. Woodchip pads are considered to offer an economic means of wintering animals, reducing or avoiding the need for conventional housing.

Many of the management systems are not used as stand-alone systems but are often mixed. The majority of these systems will still provide covered accommodation for a part of the winter. While there are some dairy farm systems in GB where no accommodation is provided, these are likely to remain the minority.

Irrespective of the management system selected, to maximise performance of the herd, the accommodation must fully provide the cow's needs. 

Any investment in new facilities or improvement of existing facilities must be financially justified, it is critical that the system fully complies with the relevant animal welfare legislation, and requirements of the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme (Red Tractor Scheme).

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