Planning and designing your cowshed layout can be challenging but is crucial to the success of your structure. Your livestock should be comfortable and protected from the elements, and you should have ease of access to provide feed and clean your stalls.
When planning a cowshed, you should consider your barn layout, adequate stall space, flooring, and livestock access to food and water. You should also consider the best location for your cowshed and ancillary structures you may need to service your livestock.
If you are planning to build your cattle shed, here are a few considerations you should factor in before you start.
1. Barn Layout
When planning your cattle shed, you should take into consideration five primary goals:
You should take into account where the best position is when building your dairy barn. It would help if you considered the feeding storage area, and there should be ample space for arranging an open walk. You should make allowances for 6 square meters for each cow and 9 square meters for a dairy cow and calf. You should also factor in the space required for stall partitions and space for feeders and drinking troughs.
It would help if you never placed your cowshed in low-lying areas where the groundwater level is close to the surface. Your dairy shed should be located away from the farm’s residential structures as the noise and odor may be disturbing to residents. You should not build your cowshed within 20 meters of wells, reservoirs, or water pipes for sanitary conditions.
Your cowshed should provide proper protection to your animals, and the orientation of your cowshed should take into account prevailing conditions. Dominant wind directions in cold climates and the orientation of your cow shed to the full effects of the direct sun should be considered when finding your ideal location.
3. Adequate Stall Space
Farmers need to keep in mind the extra space a cow needs to lunge forward to stand, and the partitions should be wide enough for a cow to lay down comfortably. The space should also not be large enough to encourage the cows to turn around in their stalls. The University of Minnesota recommends the minimum stall requirements for 1,200 -1,500lbs animals:
Stall length (incl. Forward lunging)
Neck Rail Height
Curb to neck rail and brisket Board
4. Proper Flooring
Your cattle shed floors are essential in maintaining cleanliness and preventing hoof conditions arising from rot as well as preventing your cows from slipping. They should be made of reinforced concrete or covered by cement paving. The surface of the concrete floors should be roughened and preferably have grooves to enhance grip.
If you plan to keep cows in colder conditions, you need to ensure that the floor is warm enough in winter. The insulation layer is often achieved by placing logs and a waterproofing layer on top of your cement and sewn up with boards. Your wooden floor should be treated with oil and paint to prevent moisture and rot.
You should also make sure that your cattle shed floor has the proper slope to accommodate drainage. The ratio of 1:40 works well in directing waste towards the drainage area.
5. Proper Roofing
A properly constructed roof is essential in protecting your cows from the sun, heat, cold, snow, and rain. The roof should be built to withstand the dead weight of snow (if applicable) and be resistant to strong winds and prevent leakage. Your roof should also be fire resistant to ensure the safety of your livestock. There are various roof designs to chose from, such as:
The double roofed structure is the most popular for milking cows and allows for more ventilation than single roofed designs. The roof should be at least 6-8 feet on either side of the midrib, and the midrib should be 16-18 feet in height. The roof should ideally have 15 feet height towards the midrib and have eaves of 12 feet projection on either side.
6. Access to Feeding Troughs and Water
Each of your stalls should provide your cows with ease of access to food and water. The manger surface should be at least 36 inches wide and be smooth to encourage feeding. Ceramic tiles or high-strength concrete are good choices for silages, which may etch over time with lower quality concrete. It would be best if you elevated your feed manger side by 4 inches (10cm) above the cow alley.
The feed delivery ally in larger cowsheds should accommodate feed delivery without harming the cows. Your cows should also have access to a permanent supply of fresh drinking water to thrive.
7. Insulation of Your Cowshed
Your dairy shed must be adequately insulated if you plan to build your housing structure in colder climates. Insulation prevents heat loss and moisture build-up due to condensation. It is suggested that your roof insulation should maintain an inside temperature of 1 to 2 °F above the outdoor temperature in colder climates. This insulation not only protects your cows from the cold but also lessens the radiant heat of the sun in hot conditions.
When considering insulation material, you should take into account the materials R-Value. The R-Value determines the material’s ability to impede heat flow, and the higher the value, the higher the resistance. It is suggested that your roof insulation should be R=5 or above for your intended cowshed, with the necessary ventilation also taken into account.
It would be best if you aimed to install a vapor retarder inside your insulated roof. Vapor retarders prevent water from coming into contact with your insulation and affecting your insulation performance.
8. Heat Control and Ventilation
If you plan your cowshed correctly, you need to factor in ventilation for your cow’s health and comfort. You will need fast-moving air in the resting areas in summer and a gentle breeze in winter. You will need to provide fresh air in your barn to eliminate contaminated, warm, and humid air.
Lack of proper ventilation may cause heat stress in summer and respiratory illness in winter. Ensure that your ventilation works equally well in all seasons and functions in both low and high ventilation conditions between seasons.
9. Ancillary Structures
Apart from just your animal stalls, you need to consider the buildings/structures required to serve your livestock. Depending on the size of your operation, you should factor in need for:
The old adage “Proper preparation prevents poor performance” is particularly relevant for those wishing to build their own cattle shed. Understanding the specialized requirements for housing your livestock can prevent costly mistakes or potential rebuilding. We hope our tips for building your cowshed will help you to get it right the first time around.