Cow Comfort

Cows that are comfortable will have less stress, eat more, have fewer health problems, and fewer injuries. Cows should be eating, drinking, milking or lying down.

Cow comfort is paramount in a productive and profitable dairy. Observation and experience show that cows housed in a comfortable environment produce more milk and generally live healthier longer lives, meaning that focusing on cow comfort is beneficial to both economics and animal welfare.

Some of the key aspects of cow comfort are: Ventilation, Cow Cooling, Stalls, Flooring, and Lighting.


Ventilation is an important aspect of an animal’s well-being. The goal of ventilation is to provide fresh air uniformly throughout the dairy shelter, so all animals receive adequate quantities and qualities. Proper ventilation means moving outside air through designated air inlets and evenly distributing it throughout the shelter. Incoming air mixes with air contaminants (moisture, dust, pathogens, manure gases, and heat) in the shelter and is discharged, as shown in the image below. Fans hanging over stalls or alleys do not provide air exchange and are not a substitute for open sidewalls and endwalls, rather these fans help with Cow Cooling.

Ventilation Overview

Natural Ventilation

Mechanical Ventilation

Ventilation Controllers

Cow Cooling

Under high heat and humidity conditions, cows struggle to dispose of metabolic heat as well as heat absorbed from their surroundings. If the cow is unable to dispose of enough heat, her core body temperature will rise. This rising body temperature, due to stressful environmental conditions, triggers a reduction in milk production, appetite, and overall health and an increase in respiration rate and sweating rate. Higher producing cows, which generate more body heat, are more susceptible to an increase in temperature. Due to these factors, cow cooling is an important consideration in cow comfort.


Whether the barn is a freestall or tiestall cows are most productive when they spend the majority of their time only on three productive actions:

  1. Milking
  2. Eating
  3. Lying down

One of the most controllable of these is getting the cow to spend more time in the stall. Time spent lying down can be increased by making sure the stalls are:

  • The correct size
  • Bedded correctly
  • Kept clean

Sand Bedding

Manure Solids Bedding


Many aspects of a dairy cow housing barn influence the overall environment experienced by the cows. One of the major aspects is the flooring system employed. Cows housed in modern freestall barns should spend 10 to 12 hours per day on their feet. Floors are designed to provide:

  • Confident and comfortable footing
  • Dry walking surfaces
  • Durable and structurally sound construction

Answers to many questions on flooring can be found in the following resource:


The design and use of lighting in dairy facilities is one way of increasing cow performance, particularly through the use of photoperiod manipulation or long-day lighting (LDL). This practice of designing a lighting system to artificially extend the duration of light that a lactating cow is exposed to require the consideration of both facility specific variables, and luminaire specific variables.

The goal is to supplement lactating cows to experience 16 to 18 hours of light. The cow response and economic analysis of this practice have been studied, at least minimally. This page is set up as a resource for this information on lighting in dairy barns.