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Field survey to evaluate space allowances for dairy cows in Great Britain

Thompson, J. S.; Huxley, J. N.; Hudson, C. D.; Kaler, J.; Gibbons, J.; Green, M. J.


J. S. Thompson

J. N. Huxley

Professor of Epidemiology & Precision Livestock Informatics

J. Gibbons

Professor of Cattle Health & Epidemiology


© 2020 American Dairy Science Association Housing conditions can affect health of cows by increasing exposure to biological, chemical, and physical hazards, resulting in increased disease. A report in 2014 indicated that 99% of UK dairy cows are housed during winter months and that an increasing number of farms are committing to year-round indoor-housing management systems. Current literature does not provide a clear understanding of the relationship between cow health, welfare, and production, and the housing environment. Loafing space, in this case defined as non-feed, non-lying, and non–high traffic areas of the housed environment, is considered an important component of housing for dairy cows; however, the scientific literature associated with this subject is sparse internationally. The aim of this research was to explore current housing of dairy cows across Great Britain, with specific focus on understanding the practices and variability associated with space allowance. A secondary aim was to explore farmer opinions and knowledge on the value of living space. A single researcher visited 53 randomly selected farms, from a representative sample group, once during the winter housing period 2017–18. Data collection consisted of 3 elements: collation of basic farm details, precise measurement of adult dairy cow accommodation, and a questionnaire to capture farmer opinions on space allowances. Statistical analysis was undertaken to assess variation among farms in total space, loafing space, and living space per cow. A new metric, termed “living space,” was defined to describe the additional space availability for dairy cows above that deemed to be a baseline requirement. Large variability was identified between farms in total space available per cow, with a range from 5.4 to 12.7 m2 [mean = 8.3 m2, median = 8.2 m2, interquartile range (IQR) = 1.9 m2]. The mean living space was 2.5 m2, with a range of 0.5 m2 to 6.4 m2 (median = 2.4 m2, IQR = 1.6 to 3.2 m2). Responses from a farmer questionnaire on importance of loafing space revealed that farmers felt it was essential for cow welfare, over half of farmers scoring this ≥8 on a 0 to 10 scale. Farmers were categorized into 4 latent classes based on their attitudes toward the importance of loafing space. In a linear model to predict the “living space” provided on each farm, geographical location and latent class of farmer attitude were covariates significantly associated with the amount of space provided. This study is the first worldwide to quantify variability in loafing and living spaces for dairy herds; further research is required to evaluate the extent to which variation in quantity and quality of space influences cow health, welfare, and productivity, as well as farm economics and emissions.


Thompson, J. S., Huxley, J. N., Hudson, C. D., Kaler, J., Gibbons, J., & Green, M. J. (2020). Field survey to evaluate space allowances for dairy cows in Great Britain. Journal of Dairy Science, 103(4), 3745-3759.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 15, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 31, 2020
Publication Date Apr 1, 2020
Deposit Date Nov 20, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 1, 2021
Journal Journal of Dairy Science
Print ISSN 0022-0302
Electronic ISSN 1525-3198
Publisher American Dairy Science Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 103
Issue 4
Pages 3745-3759
Keywords Dairy cow, Housing, Health and welfare, Loafing space, Living space
Public URL
Publisher URL


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