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Outdoor Animal Areas

Posted: March 5, 2004

Designing outdoor areas for cattle is not an exact science.

Designing outdoor cow areas is not an exact science. Space allowed per animal will depend on the type of surface, type of use, drainage and climate. From a functional standpoint the area should provide for clean cows with comfortable footing and allow adequate control of polluted runoff water. Suggested areas for hard surfaced lots are 60-75 square feet of lot per cow while earth lots need to be much larger about 500 - 600 square feet. Larger is better from a cow cleanliness standpoint. However, large lots cost more to build, take more space and also result in more polluted runoff water that needs to be treated. If animals are confined in lots for more than an hour they should have a clean dry resting space. This might be a clean well bedded loafing shed, a freestall barn, a well drained mound or plenty of sod. Access to feed and water is necessary if cows will be there for more than an hour or two. The presence of feed and water will also affect lot cleaning requirements. During hot weather, shade should be provided.

There are several variables to consider when designing an outside animal area:

Cow cleanliness: Milking cows require a high level of cleanliness so udders and flanks remain clean for milking. Udder cleanliness for dry cows and springing heifers is important to minimize possible udder infection. Cleanliness in a lot is related to frequency of manure removal, drainage, space per head and length of time animals are on the lot (Will they decide to lie down?). For earth lots it's also related to "how deep the mud gets."

Length and frequency of use: Short term holding or exercise used for an hour once a day, holding area before milking or animals on the lot 24 hours a day.

Necessity or intensity of use: Do the animals need to be on the lot regardless of weather and lot conditions or can they be kept elsewhere?

Resting, feeding and watering: If animals are to be in the lot for more than 1-2 hours they should have access to these items.

R. E. Graves, Agricultural, Biological, and Engineering Extension