Cow Housing: Ensure Cow Comfort, Optimum Fertility and Productivity

Cow Housing: Ensure Cow Comfort, Optimum Fertility and Productivity

Cows are Not Human:

Their skin, body temperature, and the way body heat is lost, is different from human and that the reason proper cow housing is important.  

Cow skin thickness is around 6 mm as compared to 0.7 mm in human. The cow’s skin provides greater insulation, and hence the way cows respond to changes in external temperature is different from humans. As a result, heat / cold tolerance in cows is superior to human.

Cows are social animals who like to be in groups. They get stressed when left alone and tied. Research has shown that when a cow is tied its blood sterol (hormone that marks stress in animals) levels are at least three times higher than when kept untied or loose. Stress interferes in milk yields, expression of oestrus and fertility.

When a cow is tied, it cannot express behavioural signs of oestrus, whereas when free, overt signs such as mounting other cows can lead to easy detection of animals in oestrus. Such a cow housing increases fertility performance.

Cow’s Feet are Very Sensitive:

The four legs in cows carry enormous weight, which if not properly absorbed due to faulty floor may lead to lameness and hoof abnormalities. This is by far the most important cause of culling of otherwise good cows.

The barn floor should remain dry all the time. Floor wetness is an invitation to problems such as lameness and laminitis which complicate production and fertility.

Hard cement concrete flooring without bedding on it is not comfortable for cows and act as major origin of foot problems, especially in crossbred cows.

Cement concrete flooring also radiates heat in tropical climates, and hence not suitable in warm areas.

In contrast to concrete flooring, properly laid earthen floors are softer and more cost-effective.

Cows tied on concrete floor are dirtier than cows let loose on earthen floor

When cows are tied on a concrete floor and they are forced to sit and lie on dirty floor which has been soiled with dung and urine. Such cows then require bathing twice a day and cleaning of the floor which uses much water. In fact, bathing of cows makes their skin more prone to diseases. Instead cows should be brushed once every week. 
​Cows like clean and dry places to sit and in that respect earth flooring serves best for small and medium hold farms.

Researchers have proved that cow housing on concrete floors without bedding have higher culling rate due to feet lesions and udder diseases.

Tied cows Vs Loose cows:

Experiments have shown that when a cow is tied even for 2 hours blood cortisol level (which indicates stress) is 6-7 times higher than when reared loose.

Cows kept loose on earthen floor have higher comfort levels, better digestion of fodder, better conversion ratio and produce higher milk.

Tied cows are more aggressive whereas cows left loose are calm and friendlier.

Cows reared loose have better fertility as these express profound oestrus signs and normal sexual behaviour leading to better heat detection.

Cows reared loose have more lactation days, higher milk production and better quality of milk.

Requirements for Cow Housing

Area required per cow:

For better productivity and comfort, sufficient space must be provided in the cow housing / shed. In India, most farmers have a space constraint, and so the following standards are usually used as the minimum space needed.

Age of Cow Area
Heifer and Adult Cows
60 - 100 square feet
Calves between 1 - 2 years
30 square feet
Calves 1 month to one year 
 25 square feet

Following are some examples of cost-effective but comfortable barns for cows and calves. Try to use material that is available in the farm. Design of cow housing should be minimum, without compromising animal welfare. 

What is the ideal cow house layout?

Four basic principles must be kept in mind: (a) cows should always be left loose;

​(b) barn floor must not be hard, should preferably made of earth, levelled and provided with proper natural drainage for urine;

(c) no full brick walls, but with a fence with wooden or cast iron pipes embedded in one to two feet brick / stone foundations, and

(d) two-thirds of the area open to sun and one-third provided with a covered shed.

Cow Housing
Cow Housing with cow
This is an ideal layout recommended by FAO suitable for tropical warm climate with low to medium rainfall. Please note there are no walls. Feeding and water troughs are kept outside so that while serving fodder/ feed or water the animals are not disturbed. Cow housing / shed is provided for voluntary use of animals to protect from sun and rains.

This is an ideal layout recommended by FAO suitable for high rainfall areas. Please note there are no walls but fence is provided. The fence could be solid bamboo, logs or cast iron plates or even wires (do not use barbed wires used in general fencing). Feeding and water arrangements are outside so that animals are not disturbed.

Following are some examples of cost-effective but comfortable barns for cows and calves. Try to use material that is available in the farm. Design of cow housing should be minimum, without compromising animal welfare.

This farmer has followed all the basic principles of scientific cow housing. He has used material that is available at the farm. He has provided enough space although even 50% less space would have been sufficient. Dung is removed once in three months, animals are never given a bath, nor is the floor washed, saving water as well as labour.

This farmer has followed all the basic principles of scientific cow housing. He has used material that is available on his farm. He has used tree sheds to provide protection from intense sun heat. Dung is removed once in a month, animals are never given a bath, nor is the floor washed, saving water as well as labour. You can see how comfortable cows are sitting and ruminating. The cows take food and water 6-7 times in a day.

Cow Housing with Green Shed

This farmer has followed all the basic principles of scientific cow housing. He has used material that is available at the farm. To provide protection from intense summer heat this farmer has shown innovation. Dung is removed once in a month, animals are never given a bath nor is the floor washed, saving water as well as labour. You can see how comfortable cows are sitting and ruminating. The cows take feed and water 6-7 times in a day.

Green Shed
cow housing with 5 cows
This farmer is very innovative. He has used wire mesh to prevent rats, dog, wild animal entry in the cow house. The shed-net cover on roof has added beauty as well as utility. Space provided is just enough. Dung is removed once in a month, animals are never given a bath, nor is the floor washed, saving water as well as labour. The cows take feed and water 6-7 times in a day and spend more than 12 hours lying down and ruminating.

This is economical cattle shed. Thoughtfully constructed. The feeding trough is kept outside for ease of filling without disturbing the animals. The shed provided over the feeding area protect feed and fodder from getting dry. The water trough kept inside can also be placed outside to prevent spillage of water.  

In order to provide greater protection from other animals and wildlife the farmer has provided 2.5 – 3 feet high wall. He has used the tree shed to its maximum use. The fence wall has also been used as a feeding and water trough. Dung is removed once in a month, animals are never given a bath nor is the floor washed, saving water as well as labour. You can see how comfortable cows are sitting and ruminating. The cows take feed and water 6-7 times in a day.

This is a large organized farm with around 150 cows. The floor is earthen. The requirement of labour and water for cleaning the animals is less compared to barn where animals are tied.

Dr. Abdul Samad

Ex-Dean and Director, MAFSU, Nagpur

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