You need a sheltered space, plenty of straw, a flow of fresh air and cows. We recommend 8-12 m2 of straw-bedded surface per cow (1 m2 per 1000 litres of milk per year). Dry cows need about 8 m2 of space. New cows of 10,000 litres need at least 10 m2.
In order to keep your cows here for six weeks, you need room for at least 10% of your livestock (that is, 150 cows: 150 m2 of straw-bedded barn surface).
This does not include the walking alley; this should measure at least 3 metres in width and should preferably be covered with rubber flooring or soft rubber strips. About 50% of the cows’ manure ends up on the concrete. This significantly reduces the amount of straw required. You should add about a kilogram of straw per m2 per day. In case of (temporary) overcrowding, straw should be added more regularly: about twice each day.
The barrier between the straw and the walking and feeding alley can be made of a wooden bar measuring 30 cm in height. Remove the straw and manure every six weeks. In case of new construction, a 60-cm deep-litter pit is the preferred approach. To provide easy access, a step measuring 30 cm in height and 60 cm in length is required across the entire length of this deep-litter pit.
This deep-litter pit should be cleaned out every three months. Do not create a permanent barrier between the deep-litter pit and the walking and feeding alley. Free access to the feed across the entire length of the pit is a pro. If necessary, you can use a temporary barrier to lock the animals in the walking and feeding alley during cleaning activities.
Preferably, there should be an optimum air flow (low-height cross ventilation above the straw bed) for most of the year in order to dry the straw and prevent mastitis. In badly-ventilated barns, the straw consumption of the cows is higher than in well-ventilated barns. Ventilation curtains are only necessary to keep the frost out.
Many livestock farmers place the cows on straw about 10-14 days before calving. This is the absolute minimum. New, healthy cows only stay in the straw-bedded pen for 4 days. The straw-bedded pen for fresh cows is, however, also suitable for scared heifers and crippled, injured and weak cows. They will often spend about 2-3 weeks here.
Deep cubicles are a reasonable alternative to free-range straw-bedded space for close-up and fresh/weak cow groups. These should include smaller, straw-bedded pens for calving. This approach requires constant supervision (increased labour requirements) in order to move the calving cow to the straw-bedded space at the right time. Soft, spacious and extra-wide cubicles (135 cm in width, see www.cowsignals.com) and soft rubber flooring in the alleys are essential. Go for a feeding place width of 85 cm per cow.