Cow behaviour on a cow track

Installing a cow track that works for your herd means taking into account the way cows behave when they’re moving around in groups. Find out how to ensure your track keeps your cows moving happily.

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Considering cow behaviour when installing a cow track

When installing a cow track, it’s important to keep in mind the way cows behave when they move around in groups. You’ll also need to make sure that the track is wide enough to accommodate your herd size, as in the table below:

Number of cows in the herd

Minimum width of the track (surfaced)


4 meters


5 meters


6 meters


7 meters

Think ahead: you may wish to make your track wider if you plan to expand your herd.

Here are some points to remember about how cows behave on tracks, along with actions you can take to keep them happy.

Cows need space

Cows walk and stand with their heads down, and they need space for their heads to move up and down freely. This allows them to find a safe foot placement, enables them to avoid more dominant cows, and gives them room to respond to pain if they stand on a stone. If their heads are up, either on the track or in the shed, it’s because they’re too tightly packed.


Give your cows space – don’t force them to bunch up tightly, either on the track or in the milking shed.

Cows have a pecking order

Cows have a walking order, and it’s slightly different to their milking order. After entering the collecting yard, they need time to rearrange themselves before they enter the parlour.


Give your cows space and time to rearrange their position in the herd before entering the parlour.

Dominant cows set the walking speed of the herd

Cows won’t overtake the dominant animals in front of them, and this puts pressure on the rear group, causing them to compact at the back on the track or by the backing gate. The front cows are almost unaffected, so they don’t walk any faster and continue at their own speed.


Don’t put pressure on cows at the rear of the herd.

Cows follow the leaders, and their movement is forward

Under pressure, lower dominance cows and heifers reverse out of tight spots. A cow reversing indicates too much pressure.


Increase the distance between the herdsman and the herd on the track.

Useful links

Find out about the advantages of cow tracks

Find out what to consider when planning your cow track route

Learn about materials for your cow track

Discover how to design and build a cow track

Find out more about maintaining a cow track

Learn about draining your cow track

Find out how to calculate cow track costs

Learn how to fence a cow track

Download the Cow tracks guide

AHDB has a number of technical resources for you to use on farm and in the office. If you would like to order a hard copy of Cow tracks, please contact:

Telephone: 0247 799 0069

Alternatively, you can order online using the form below:

Dairy order form