How to Design a Cowshed: The Complete Guide

By Dairy Farming Hut


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Every cow owner needs to take care of their herd. After water and food, shelter is one of the most important assets your ranch or farm should offer for your animals. Cows are especially susceptible to the cold and should have a comfortable cowshed for retiring at the end of the day and keeping warm and dry during storms.

Designing a cowshed requires:

  • Determining the size of shed you need
  • Buying suitable materials
  • Calculating costs
  • Measuring and developing the exterior and internal spaces
  • Following the construction steps accurately

Without a shed, your animals are suffering out in the elements. Happy cows produce better quality dairy and meat and are overall more healthy. Make sure that you take care of your cows with a properly built and secure cowshed. Read on to learn everything needed about designing a shed that's right for your cattle situation.

Cowshed Overall Design

The cowshed or barn is where the cows lay down and rest during particularly hot periods of the day or during the night when they are sleeping. Each cow should get a stall where they can lay down in soft hay and sleep. The stalls of a cowshed should be large enough so that the cow remains clean. For the average booth, the size of one and a half cows is plenty of room, allowing for:

  • Feeding
  • Drinking water
  • Defecating
  • Sleeping

There should be enough space for the cow to defecate and urinate into the substrate on the floor(usually hay or other material) and still remain clean. The cubicles need daily cleaning after the cow has been in them overnight. The cows need space to lie down. Also, stalls and the general area of your cowshed should maximize efficiency.

The Direction of the Cowshed

The orientation of your cowshed is crucial for several reasons. The direction of your doors, windows, and any other openings need to consider the approach of the most consistent wind tendencies in the area. Windy cowsheds can cause health issues in cattle.

Either insulation of materials for walls or windbreaks should be installed. The orientation should be optimal for diverting the troublesome wind away from your cowshed. Always consider the amount of current that your cows get exposed to before finalizing the location of your cowshed.

Although building a solid wall for a cowshed seems like the best way of maintaining a windbreak, the wind, rain, and even snow tend to pile up and come over the windbreak's top side.

How to Install a Windbreak

Windbreaks are an essential part of designing a highly functioning cowshed. Below is one of the best outlines for windbreaks:

  • Eight-foot-long posts: Use pressure-treated materials like 8x8 pieces of wood and drive them into the ground at about three and a half feet deep. Keep the posts about eight feet apart and support three 2x6-inch stringers to hold the boards of the windbreak in place.
  • Nail the boards in place: After the posts get planted, large boards get nailed into the posts. These boards are solid but still have some space between them for the wind to come through.
  • Horizontal slabs: Run flat slabs of wood across the top of the posts to stabilize the whole structure. This stabilization of the design also reduces the wear and tear from the movement in the wind.

Ensure that your cowshed is pointed in a direction limiting the cows' exposure to strong winds. If the wind is swirling, make sure that windbreaks get installed so that the cattle have a warm and dry shelter at all times during the year.

Foundation Type and Construction

The foundation of your cowshed is a crucial decision. There are usually two types of foundations that a cowshed gets made out of, and each of them has its benefits and drawbacks.

All foundation types for a cowshed need a base of heavy-duty waterproof applied to them. This heavy-duty waterproofing procedure is best for cowsheds because it:

  • Increases the efficiency of drains and concrete slopes
  • Keeps the concrete slopes from dampening
  • Doesn't absorb bad smells
  • Is not as attractive for parasites and rodents to consume or procreate

Also, no matter which type of foundation you create for your cowshed, minimum requirements ensure comfort and safe footing for your cows. These flooring requirements are:

  • A dry walking surface
  • Reliable footing without spaces
  • Durability for the weight of your animals
  • Flat surface located between cement grooves
  • Smooth surfaces in and between grooves of cement
  • Edges that are smooth with easy right angles for the grooves and floor surface
  • Proper groove width, spacing, and depth

Finally, the cowshed floor should have drainage built into it. The central branch of drainage collects waste and sewage from all stalls and cubicles. The drainage should have floors that get angled at three degrees towards the drainage system.

The two main types of foundation types for cowsheds are called columnar and monolithic.

Monolithic Foundation

The monolithic foundation is based on a single piece of the foundation, usually built of strong cement material. This type of foundation is best for cowsheds made primarily out of stone, brick, and cement materials for the walls and stalls.

For this type of foundation, you need:

  • A trench dug with reinforcing rebar or formwork is laid
  • Then the gravel and sand are poured into the bottom of the trenchNext, the wet and mixed cement should get poured over the sand and gravel
  • Finally, after the cement cures, it should be treated with roofing material or mastic waterproofing for enhanced protection and longevity of the foundation's floor life

Columnar Foundation

A barn made from wood or logs is generally made more sturdy with a columnar foundation. This design for a foundation is constructed similarly to the monolithic foundation with the addition of reinforcement pillars placed at intervals of not more than two meters. Sometimes, the reinforced formwork or rebar may be in the shape of posts for a small barn.

Wall Type and Construction

After the foundation gets laid, it's time to install the walls for your cowshed. There are many different options for installing walls on your cowshed foundation. Let's look at these wall types options listed below:

  • Cinder block
  • Foam concrete
  • Sandwich panels
  • Silicate brick
  • Stone
  • Wood panel and frame

The size of your cowshed rooms and cubicles or stalls should influence the wall material decision. For example, a more oversized shed should use sturdy materials. While with a smaller cowshed or barn, you can get away with cheaper and less heavy-duty materials.

Some wall types, like cinder blocks, offer built-in insulation, which cuts down on the overall costs of the cowshed. These types of corners can get cut if the size of the cowshed is not too large. However, a truly massive cowshed needs the highest quality and heavy-duty materials for the monumental task.

Large Cowsheds

A large cowshed may house forty or more animals living in it at once. Therefore, these structures are massive and need tall and heavy roofs, requiring very sturdy walls.

A large structure for your cowshed needs sturdy walls made of expensive and durable materials. Silicate brick, foam blocks, and stone are all great for large cowsheds. These brick and stone materials are also excellent for naturally insulating the cowshed.

Medium Sized Cowshed

A lesser cowshed with only twenty or fewer animals needs less space and a smaller roof. It can also get away with using less sturdy materials for its walls. For a medium-sized cowshed, walls made of wood with framing or sandwich panels are suitable. These materials are typically less expensive and make for easier installation.

However, they do not generally have excellent insulation properties. Nor are they as durable or long-lasting as the stone and brick materials we discussed using for a larger cowshed.

Small Sized Cowshed

Compact structures for only one or two cows might have walls built of adobe brick. These bricks are not very durable or strong. Still, they allow for some insulation and are adequate for a smaller structure with a smaller roof and less square footage.

Roof Installation and Design

Construction of the roof of your cowshed typically is done with wooden floors and gable roof structures. The outer roof material is generally made from less expensive materials such as:

  • Thin tiles
  • Slate sheets
  • Corrugated sheet metal

You can also consider installing an attic or hayloft under roof planks and structures. This area is another floor above the ceiling floor that stores necessary care equipment or hay.

Cows also need plenty of light for happiness and health. The light could be electrically produced. You may opt for added light from a skylight in the roof, which requires planning and details, and pre-fabricated plexiglass or plastic skylight windows that get installed in the final roof design.

Finally, a standard ceiling height for almost all breeds of cows is about 2.5 meters. This allows for a comfortable space above the cows and allows for excellent airflow through the cowshed, minimizing disease outbreaks and foul odors.

Window Installation and Design

Windows are essential for a cowshed since most of the light that filters into it is natural. Sure, you could install a skylight, but wall windows are also a standard installation of cowsheds, which can consist of:

  • Glass
  • Another transparent material such as plexiglass
  • Be left open

You should never have less than 10% of the total area at the base of the structure built for window openings.

Usually, windows get made at about three to four feet off of the ground. These maintain light while minimizing trouble with weather or other issues.

The different types of window designs for your cowshed include:

  • Swinging windows with windows of double-glazed glass
  • Hinged windows with a polycarbonate plastic insert
  • Sliding windows with clear polycarbonate insert

Ventilation Design

High-quality ventilation or natural ventilation with holes in walls, roof structures, and positioning of the cowshed to align with prevailing winds are all incredibly important for your consideration.

Natural Ventilation or Mechanical Ventilation that gets mounted in the rafters is an excellent idea, and it is essential in many places where cows get raised for their meat and milk.

Ventilation not only keeps cows safe from heat, disease, and cold but helps with maintaining high standards of milk production. Prefabricated ventilation tubes run to a fan at one end of the cowshed is the most efficient design that keeps your costs down and your cows happy and safe.

A hood with dampers also works for smaller cowsheds. The key is that the cowshed needs consistent temperature and airflow to minimize exposure to extremes because of the detrimental health effects for cows.

For example, rooms that are too hot cause cows to stop eating or even drinking water. Hot rooms that fatigue cows mean that they don't have the nutrients they need for producing milk.

Adverse Effects of Poor Ventilation

The possible adverse outcomes of poor or no ventilation in a cowshed are

  • Poor health that lingers for a lifetime
  • Less likely for cows to make it into adulthood
  • Respiratory distress and disease

The negative effect of cold and heat on cows can linger for their lifetime and make them

  • More susceptible to disease
  • Less likely to live into old age
  • Limit their milk production
  • Bulls can even become sterile in extreme weather conditions

Colder temperatures with a poorly ventilated cowshed cause many respiratory distress issues and diseases. It is the result of the lack of ventilation that could cause an increase in moisture. These types of respiratory conditions are the type that lingers and could lead to more severe illness and even death. So, it is vital to consider that ventilation is as important in winters as in summers.

Warmer temperatures in a cowshed with poor or no ventilation makes cows show obvious signs of heat sickness and fatigue. Signs of heat sickness are observed as:

  • Labored breathing
  • Panting
  • Inability to eat
  • Aversion to water and feed
  • Not laying down for standard periods of rest

Cows are also less likely to rest lying down when they are overheated. The overheating causes them to become more tired, fall ill, and less likely to get enough nutrients for high-quality milk. In some studies, hotter weather reduced laying down time in cows from ten to seven hours a day.

Rooms of the Cowshed

After the basic structure of the cowshed outer building is planned, you'll want a checklist of the most important rooms and other components for your cowshed. Some of these rooms and features are more numerous than others. The list below details how many of each you should expect in your cowshed.

Stalls and Cubicles

The stalls or cubicles are where the cows spend their time tethered down while sleeping or resting during the day. These are the enclosures where the cow lives. There are as many stalls as cows, bulls, and calves, with a few more for additional birthing of calves. Sometimes, a cow and calf will share a stall.

There should be no empty cubicles at any time because this means that you are wasting money and space. However, extra stalls should be made for the seasonal heifers or young livestock which are born and need accommodations. The average numbers of additional cubicles are listed below:

  • One cow, two cubicles
  • Two cows, three cubicles
  • Three cows, five cubicles
  • Four cows, six cubicles
  • Five cows, seven cubicles
  • Six cows, nine cubicles

Your cowshed space dimensions are typically the same, no matter how many cattle you have. Cubicles are generally a standard-sized boxed-in space of about seven feet long and four feet wide, allowing cows to defecate, urinate, and still lay down for rest without turning around completely. However, the stall is more open-air and allows the cow to feed and defecate in one place.

A small two timber fence should separate the cubicles with a feed trough separated by cubicles for each animal at about three feet off the ground. Each cubicle has a set limit for how small it can be. Below are the minimal standards for cows of different ages and types:

Type of Cow

Space Type


Adult Cow


2.2-2.7 square meters

Adult cow and one calf


3 square meters

One calf


1.5 square meters

One adult bull


No less than 1.75 square meters

Feed and Water Trough

Cows need access to a lot of feed and plenty of water while in the cowshed for the night or day. Both of these components of the cowshed need efficiency and cleanliness. Efficient feed and watering solutions are easy for cleaning and filling with more water and feed. Still, they cut down on time and effort on the rancher, making them more profitable.

The feeder usually feeds about five to six cows. Each cow gets separated by a metal bar called a neck rail. The feeder is generally about a foot to two feet deep and stacked tall with feed or hay. Cows come for feeding about ten times every day.

The cows feed should be available to them in feed trough for at least twenty hours each day.

High-quality and efficient feeders are great for cows. They have even been shown that when higher consistency of feed consumption gets enacted with a high-efficiency feeder system, the milk gets produced with higher fat content.

Neck Rail

There is an opening within the cow's cubicle or stall structure so that a cow, bull, or calf has access to food and water troughs outside the enclosure.

The rail where the chamber ends and the entry of water and food begins is called the neck rail.

The neck rail height should be about 44-46 inches from the ground, and the neck rail and brisket board at about 66 inches off the ground. Both of these components of the enclosure or cubicle/stall give the cow access to food and water while maintaining a posture that reduces injury or discomfort for the animal. In addition, the ergonomic design and dimensions limit stress on your cow. 

Manure Removal System

Each cow stall needs a liquid manure removal system. In addition, most larger cowsheds need drainage systems as pitchforking out dirty hay from each stall is not an efficient cleaning method.

Manure removal systems are usually built into the foundation of the cement. Each stall should have a five-degree descent into the drain line that feeds into the main branch of the sewage line. The sewage branch should lead up and down the line of stalls collecting liquid sewage from all cows on that side of the cowshed.

The main branches of the sewage lines are sloped so that rinsing with a hose from the stalls drains them out into a catch tube that eventually feeds into a holding pond outside the cowshed.

Utility Rooms

Rooms with tools, electrical panels, and hose faucets are crucial for the efficiency and cleanliness of the cowshed. There should be several utility rooms for each of these things. If it is a large cowshed, consider installing multiple utility rooms at strategic points for easy access to tools for:

  • Cleaning
  • Feeding
  • Moving the cows

Your cowshed also needs more utility room space for hay and other feeds if the attic space is not accessible or usable as a hayloft.

The Materials Needed for Building a Cowshed

The cowshed is a stable for your cattle when they sleep and need rest or shelter from storms and bad weather. There are several primary materials that you need for building a cowshed from the ground up.

The tools necessary for construction are typically wood and metal joining tools, with a few tools for cutting wood planks and sheet metal.

The primary materials you need for building a cowshed are:


Pouring cement seems like an easy task, but any novice who has tried it knows that it takes planning and strict instructions. Two of the essential characteristics of the cement that you choose for your cowshed project are the strength to hold up to heavy animals and a waterproof surface that will not absorb liquid manure.

M400 cement is preferred for building a cowshed because of the need for a material that lacks external factors. There are several advantages of using M400 grade cement for a cowshed.

  • First of all, M400 has a rapid grasp and acceleration regarding the work process. This means that it sets and dries quickly in your project. You may even consider laying it for your entire floor and foundation.
  • The tough and compact nature of M400 cement makes it an ideal material for the floor of a cowshed that is under constant strain from the hooves of animals that are thousands of pounds heavy. The strength of M400 cement is 393 kg/cm2, which is incredibly dense and strong.

Once the cement sets for 24 hours, make sure that it is treated with water to become moisturized. Moisturizing your M400 cement is crucial for the foundation of your cowshed because it prevents cracking and breaks. Since the cement is also used for a slotted floor where sewage flows from the stalls into the main trunk as a special collection, maintaining the integrity of the cement by minimizing cracks is very important.


Both your side paneling and pillars may be made of wood. Generally, pressure-treated wood is best for the pillars and side paneling. However, the frame of your cowshed could get constructed from fresh timbers like a typical residential dwelling.

Steps for Building a Cowshed

The design and steps needed for building a cowshed are based on maintaining optimal health and safety for your cattle. The following are some of the most straightforward steps that you should take when designing a cowshed:

  • Choose a suitable space: Make sure that the direction of the wind won't bother your cattle too much. Also, the soil should be able to stay dry and cool if the earth floor is used and compact enough for a cement foundation.
  • Decide on Materials: Larger cowsheds need more sturdy materials, mainly because the roof the walls must hold up is heavier.
  • Decide on design: The foundation design is based on the size of the room and roof; you may or may not need pillars. Also, you need specific numbers of cubicles for your cows, and each of them needs designed particular minimum amounts of space.
  • Get it ventilated: Ventilation for anything in medium or large size is essential for a cowshed. Hot or cold cows produce less milk and could become sick and die.
  • Build-in Cleanliness: Utility rooms, manure drains, and access to water are all essential for keeping the cowshed tidy and sanitary.
  • Keep them fed and watered: Efficient systems, like multi-animal feeding troughs, are not only easier for cleaning and maintaining but keep your cowshed running more efficiently.

In Conclusion

Cowsheds are an excellent investment for a transitional resting place that your cows will enjoy. Happier and healthier cows are more efficient cows and will make you more money with higher yields of milk and healthier born calves in the long run.

Ensure that you consider the size, scope, number of cows, and details about safety and cleanliness before you begin constructing your cowshed. If you do, you will have far fewer nasty surprises along the way.

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