Cow Cleanliness


10 min read

Cow cleanliness videos Cow cleanliness scoring Cow cleanliness score results Frestall barn cleanliness Loose housed barn cleanliness Pasture based herd cleanliness Automated milking system

Clean and comfortable bedding is crucial for cow welfare and helps prevent diseases like mastitis and lameness. If your cows are frequently dirty, it could indicate issues with your facility's ventilation, cleaning schedule, or the location of your neck rails and brisket locators. Regular cleanliness scoring can help monitor your herd's health.

Clean housed cows are an indicator of good cow comfort and welfare as cows prefer to lie on clean, dry and comfortable bedding.

Clean cows have a lower risk of mastitis and lameness. Dirty cows can also be a sign that something is not quite right in the facility such as ventilation or scraper timing.

Cow cleanliness videos

Watch these videos to find out how to keep cows and beds clean and manage the facility well.

Cow cleanliness in housed systems

1 / 3 videos 2:01 min

How can cows get dirty in a housed facility?

2 / 3 videos 2:50 min

Cow cleanliness scorecard

3 / 3 videos 2:46 min

Keeping cows clean on a freestall mattress

20% of your herd are likely to be heifers. Being smaller, they defecate on the back of the beds.

Help keep beds clean by scraping beds daily and using a secondary bedding material such as sawdust to help scraping.

If all the beds and cows are getting dirty, it may help to observe the cows and alter adjustable neck rails and brisket locators.

Neck rails are meant to position the cow correctly when she enters the stall, before she lies down. It is difficult to get neck rails in the right position as they can either compromise the cow standing or rising. If the rail is too far forward it can cause cows to stand and lie too far forward and soil the beds.

The brisket locator helps to position the cow correctly when she lies down. When the brisket locator is set correctly it prevents the cow from lying too far forward and soiling the bed.

Cow cleanliness scoring

Download the housed cow cleanliness score card to assess the cleanliness of your herd.

Watch our cow cleanliness scorecard video in the playlist above and see the information below.

How to score your herd

  1. Choose a time and place that allows you to easily observe the back, flank and tail; the lower hind leg, and udder of standing cows. An hour after fresh feed has been provided and before cows start to lie down, or during milking, are good times to cleanliness score. Cows should be scored at random by moving through the whole herd scoring as you go.
  2. For each cow, add only one tally mark to the box that describes her dirtiest part e.g. a cow that is scored a 0 for her legs and udder and a 1 for her flank will be scored a 1 with a tally mark placed in the score 1, flank box.
  3. Once the cows have been scored as per the table below, add up the number of cows that have scored a 2.
  4. Divide this number by the total number of cows scored to work out the percentage. This is the herd score.

Cow cleanliness scoring example

Number of cows to score

It is best practice to score the entire herd. However, the minimum number of cows you should score is shown in the table below:

Herd size Number of cows to score
Less than 200 cows 80
200-500 cows 90
More than 500 cows 100

Cow cleanliness score results

Now that you have the results from measuring the cleanliness of your herd; you can get further information on the score below that best describes your herd.

All my cows scored 0

Well done! Your cows are clean. Monitor the cleanliness of your herd regularly to pick up any changes that may affect cow cleanliness.

Less than 20% cows scored 2

Score the cleanliness of your herd regularly to monitor changes that may result in cows getting dirtier. You may want to score hygiene before and after changes in diet, production stage or every month throughout the housed period.

More than 20% cows scored 2

Find your system below to identify steps you can take to improve your cow cleanliness, health, and comfort.

Freestall barn cleanliness

Stall cleanliness

Dirty stall beds mean cows will lie directly in wet dung.

  • Stall dimensions should be designed to fit the largest cows in the herd. Smaller cows tend to sit forward in the stall so the backs of the beds become soiled. Ensure backs of beds are scraped every day as part of the routine management of freestall housing.

Stall length

If the cow’s tail and switch is lying in the scraper passage, cows flick the effluent onto their flanks when lying and standing up.

  • Switch trimming can help, but the length of the bed is critical. It is possible to make wider beds by moving the dividers. This allows cows to lie diagonally and fully on the bed. Widening stalls will result in fewer stalls in total, so stocking rates must be adjusted.

Stocking density

Allow at least one stall per cow. Cows are herd animals and like to lie down as a group. If a stall is not available for each cow, some animals may lie down in alleyways and cross-overs.

Frequency of passageway cleaning

If scrapers don’t run frequently enough, effluent in front of the blade is pushed onto the beds.

  • Ensure the scraper settings are correct. Changes in diets, stage of production and stocking rates can increase levels of effluent, so scraping must occur more frequently.

Scraper blades

Worn scraper blades can be ineffective regardless of scraper frequency.

  • Check scraper blades to ensure they are not damaged or worn and replace them when necessary.


Cross-overs can collect a lot of dung and are usually scraped and washed by hand. Thick effluent build-up on cross-overs can cause cleanliness issues.

  • Check the cross-over cleaning routine is effective. Consider dumping water from tipping troughs prior to scraping to ensure a better clean. If there are no tipping troughs, consider fitting a hose on the trough inlet and wet cross-overs before scraping.

Yard cleanliness

Other concrete areas will collect effluent and when cows walk through them they will dirty their legs.

  • Check your yard and exit race are being cleaned properly after each milking, and that drainage is effective, particularly during wet weather.

Cow health

Cows with nutritional or health-related scours may produce watery dung that can change the cleanliness of the cow and change the process of absorption by the bedding, regardless of usual management practices.

Loose housed barn cleanliness

Stocking rate

Overstocked buildings mean more dung and urine per square metre, which makes it difficult for bedding to dry out.

  • Check your stocking rate is at least 6m² per cow for facilities used for short periods per day or intermittently and more than 9m² for facilities used 24/7 or long periods or over winter.

Bedding type and quantity

Some bedding types are less absorbent than others. Damp wood products, poorly managed straw, insufficient or no bedding material can all result in wet lying areas that make cows dirty.

  • Ensure bedding is 30–50cm deep and is regularly topped up. Test your bedding management by kneeling on the bedding for 10 seconds after the cows have been in for a few hours. If your knees are dry, you are managing the bedding layer well.

Bedding maintenance

For woodchip bedding scratch the surface with a rototiller or similar equipment at least once a day, and twice a day during times of heavy use.

  • For straw bedding, ensure straw is topped up daily so the top layer is always clean.
  • Remove the top 30mm of the bedding material when it becomes congested with water and manure.

Cleanliness of passageways and feeding areas

When cow traffic passageways are dirty and have high levels of effluent, cows will easily kick the effluent up their legs when they walk through.

  • Ensure the scraping routines of any concrete passageways or feed passageways where cows stand and eat are regular enough to keep effluent levels low.

Udder hair

Excessive udder hair can mean that dirt will cling to the udder more readily.

  • Consult your vet and discuss singeing under hair. Check that all other general cleanliness and bedding checks have been investigated before singeing udder hair.

Cow health

Cows with nutritional or health-related scours may produce watery dung that can change the cleanliness of the cow and change the process of absorption by the bedding, regardless of usual management practices.

Pasture based herd cleanliness

Winter crops

Cows wintering on crops can get dirty flanks when lying in muddy paddocks. Most cows seek the driest areas to lie down and will often lie on straw that is given out for feed. Cows overwintered on crops are dry cows, so animal health hygiene risk is reduced, although cow comfort may be compromised.

  • An immediate option is not always available to solve this problem but options for wintering to provide better cow comfort can be found here.

Excessively pugged pastures

Wet weather and overstocking on heavier soils can cause pugging, and increases mud.

  • Consider moving cows to drier pastures or standing them off for a short time to reduce pugging damage which can affect pasture growth. For more information click here.

Excessively pugged pasture entrance points

It is likely most pasture entrance ways are permanently damaged from pugging. In wet weather mud can splash onto cows, especially if they are rushed through gateways.

  • It is likely this short distance is not going to be an area of concern but if raceways and wider areas of the paddock are; see the Pugging damage page for more information.

High stocking rates around sheltered areas

Cows often return to the most desirable place to lie down. In break-fed pasture systems this is not always an option for the cow, but sometimes cows have the opportunity to return to a chosen area in a paddock, especially in a sacrifice paddock. This area, usually by a hedge or tree line, will become increasingly pugged, bare and have high levels of dung, which cows lie in and as a result get dirty flanks.

Raceway management

When races become wet cows will flick mud and effluent onto their legs when they walk along.

  • Check the quality of your raceways to ensure they are well drained and have a good walking surface.

Yard cleanliness

Other concrete areas will collect effluent which cows will walk through and get dirty legs.

  • Check your yard and exit race are being cleaned properly after each milking. Some raceways and dirt races can be problematic after poor weather.

Stock handling

Cows that are rushed or grouped together along wet raceways will have more mud and dirt flicked onto their legs which contributes to lameness.

  • Ensure that staff allow cows to move at their own pace.

Automated milking system cleanliness

Robotic milking issues

Most automatic milking machines clean the teats and parts of the udder before milking.

  • It is likely that the automated machine will send a warning when a malfunction occurs, but check to ensure it is running a normal cycle. Contact the manufacturer if you think there is a problem.
Last updated: Sep 2023

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