Dairy cattle are housed in and regularly exposed to various types of facilities throughout their life. Starting from the calf housing, then onto heifer housing, and finally to the lactating cow barns and milking center.
Through all of these facilities their design and construction focus to ensure that dairy cows are comfortable, in an environment to improve their health, and prevent diseases - all while considering ease of management through layout and site planning.
How can you get more comfortable cows? There are various methods, including ventilation, heat stress relief, facility design, stall design, lighting design, and a proper flooring surface. Visit the Presentations, Drawings, Papers, and Photos housed on this site for further explanation of these methods.
Calves need to be given a good start in life to ensure they will be viable replacements for the herd. Properly raised calves are more apt to be healthy, vigorous, and ready for first calving at the target age and body size for the farm. As cows, they should be able to cope with stressful environmental conditions better than calves raised in less than ideal conditions. Providing adequate nutrition, health care, animal husbandry, and management are essential. Ensuring a proper environment for each animal is equally important.
Facilities can be old structures or new, elaborate or simple; no matter the type they must provide a management and housing system that provides the following five key elements to the calf on a year-round basis.
- A dry, comfortable resting area
- Good Ventilation
- Free access to feed and water
- Confident Footing
- Space, not overcrowded
- Better Housing Helps Calves Get Off to a Good Start - Lancaster Farming (October 2016)
- Pre-Weaned Calves: Housing and Considerations - Curt Gooch (May 2009)
- Role of Facility Design and Ventilation on Calf Health - Curt Gooch (February 2007)
- Environmental Conditions in Plastic Film Covered Calf Facilities - Curt Gooch (February 2001)
- Newborn Housing for Dairy Calves - Your Dairy’s Future Success Begins with Healthy Calves Raised in the Right Environment - Curt Gooch
A good dairy housing facility meets three basic needs: a clean, dry, comfortable resting area, adequate ventilation, and easy access to feed and water. The adolescent management group also needs a means for restraint to facilitate health checks, possibly AI service, and hoof care.
Facilities should provide
- A clean, dry environment
- Plenty of fresh air, feed, and water
Optimal facilities are
- Labor efficient and easy to use
- Safe for both workers and cows
- Environmentally friendly
- Transition Housing for Heifers - House Post-Weaned Calves Properly to Keep Them Healthy and Growing Efficiently - Curt A Gooch (August 2000)
- Existing Facilities for Replacement Housing - Providing a Conducive Environment for Housing Heifers may be Possible in Older Facilities - Curt A. Gooch (August 2000)
- Adolescent Heifer Housing - Proper Housing for the Adolescent Management Group is Crucial to Rounding Out Your Replacement Facilities - Curt A. Gooch (January 2000)
Lactating Cow Barns
The facilities that house the main milking herd are key pieces to the dairy's success. Facilities can be composted bedded packs, tie-stall barns, or freestall as long as they provide a comfortable environment for the dairy cow.
The management style and method of manure handling are important factors to consider when considering which type of facility best fits the farm's needs.
Tie Stall Barns
- Benefits of Sand Extended to Tiestall Barns - Frans Vokey (May 2005)
- Dairy Freestall Barn Design — A Northeast Perspective - Curt Gooch (May 2009)
- Wide-Body Dairy Housing Barns - Curt Gooch (September 2006)
Facilities with voluntary milking, typically called robotic milking systems, give individual cows the freedom to enter the milking unit at their discretion.
- Robotic Milking Systems - Jennifer Bockhahn and Timothy Terry (January 2022)
Effective milking center ventilation is needed to provide comfortable conditions for the operator and the cows alike. Likewise, proper ventilation can help to prevent premature deterioration of building materials and equipment. Milking center designers need to be aware of the need for proper ventilation and incorporate its design into the normal design process.
- Environmental Control for Today’s Milking Center Curt Gooch (February 2001)
- Air Out Your Milking Facility - A Well-ventilated Facility Contributes to Milk Quality - Curt Gooch (July 2000)
- Ventilation Strategies for Environmental Control of Modern Milking Centers - C.A. Gooch and W.G. Bickert (July 1999)
When producers decide to make a change to their dairy facility, they sometimes view the proposed change as an isolated project in relation to the rest of the dairy operation. A more prudent approach would be to consider each facility change as an integrated component of your future dairy operation and not just as a band-aid for the existing one.
For each change to be a viable integrated component, a vision of the future dairy facility should be in mind. A facility master plan is a plan that uses drawings and written documentation to articulate the vision of the future facility. A master plan will show the location of all existing and proposed buildings for the site. It will also show both existing and future major infrastructure items like utilities, roads, walkways, etc. Topography needs to be included so that proper drainage of surface runoff and piped waste can be ensured. Existing and proposed topography also allows for easy calculation of cut/fill volumes as needed.
A crucial step in developing a facility master plan is to decide how big of an operation should be planned. This question must ultimately be answered by the producer after much thought and consultation with farm advisors.
- Site Planning thoughts for Incremental Expansion - Curt Gooch (July 2001)
- Constructing Dairy Facilities Tips for producers as they look for and work with a contractor - Curt Gooch (August 2000)