One of the first considerations with a straw yard is to determine the shape of the yard this will affect the space available for the cows. Since cows prefer to lie down along the peripheral walls of straw yards, a rectangular yard is considered a better shape than a square yard.
The distance from the bedded yard to the feed area should be as short and direct as possible. The distance from the feeding passage to the back wall of a straw yard should not exceed 10m. This minimises the risk of animals treading on each other as they exit the yard.
Bedded area space allowances
The space allowance required for each cow will determine the stocking rate of the yard. To achieve optimal straw yard design (rectangular in shape with more than 3.0m2/cow loafing and feeding area and not more than 10.0m in depth), a lying area of at least 7.5m2/cow is recommended. If the bed is deeper than 10.0m or the design of the yards is compromised with poor access or ventilation, the lying area should be increased to at least 9.5m2/cow.
Feed stance/loafing area
Any housing system based on straw yards must provide a concrete area for loafing and feeding. This helps promote hoof wear to prevent feet becoming overgrown.
The loafing area should be at least 3.0m2/cow and it is important to ensure that there is ready access to the loafing area from the straw yard through multiple exits or, preferably, unhindered access. If the loafing area also serves as a feed passage, the minimum width of the feed passage should be 4.6m. This allows cows uninterrupted feeding, while animals are moving around behind them. The loafing area should be scraped at least twice each day to reduce faecal soiling of the feet.
Access from the straw yards
There should be unhindered access from the straw yard to the feeding and loafing area to prevent the development of soiled areas. If access is restricted, localised areas around gateways become very dirty and wet, reducing the available bedding area for cows to lie and increasing the risk of mastitis.
A step should be provided between the feeding and loafing area and the straw beds to help retain the bedding and prevent the ingress of faeces and urine. A solid barrier also provides a straight edge to scrape against when cleaning out the loafing area.
It is important to be able to close off the bedded area to keep the cows on their feet after milking, for a minimum of 30 minutes to allow the teat orifice to close. This reduces the opportunity for mastitis pathogens to enter the open teat canal.
Access to and from the yards for machinery should be carefully considered, as regular vehicular access will be required to carry out tasks such as feeding, bedding down and mucking out.
Location of water troughs
Water troughs should be located so that it is not possible for cows to drink while standing on the bedded area. This will either mean locating the trough in the feed fence or on the edge of the bedded yard but protected by a block wall, or similar. The trough should not protrude into the passageway as this will affect the ability to scrape the area completely.