Free Stall Barn


3 min read

Benefits Limitations System design considerations Overall likely costs Other jobs Adviser tips

Freestalls are permanent structures for housing dairy cattle, offering them comfort and daily necessities. These structures can significantly improve feed usage, enhance herd comfort, and reduce maintenance costs, but they also require a substantial initial investment and sophisticated management. Careful considerations around location, feed supply management, and animal spacing are vital. These systems might increase input costs and make the business more vulnerable to price fluctuations. They also require advanced effluent management skills due to possible regulatory attention. To ensure success, seek solid financial and business advice and focus on managing your people well.

These are permanent, engineered structures, in which dairy cattle are housed and provided with their daily dietary requirements and water. They may be open air, partially or fully enclosed.

Freestalls are typically used to house dairy cows for extended periods and include a bedding area for cows to ruminate and rest.

The term 'freestall' refers to the bedding area where cows are provided cubicles (stalls), where they may lie down.

Feed and cow alleys, as well as bedding areas are cleaned daily to maintain cow comfort, health and production performance. Internal or external loafing areas may also be included in the design to provide additional area for cattle to move around.



  • Significant improvement in feed ration utilisation


  • All weather facility to control and manage herd comfort, minimising production downturns during adverse weather (heat and cold)
  • Minimises production losses associated with herd travel to and from grazing
  • Better herd monitoring may be possible e.g. heat detection, animal welfare, BCS
  • Possible reduction in herd lameness (if cows are not standing in mud or on concrete feedpads for long periods of time)


  • Minimises farm maintenance costs associated with paddock renovation following pugging and compaction
  • May increase pasture production (if home grown forage retained)
  • Reduces farm maintenance costs associated with laneway surfacing and paddock gate entrances
  • Opportunities to capitalise on more advanced effluent management with liquid, slurry and solid products more readily available to compliment fertiliser applications


  • Significant capital outlay to establish the business
  • Business reliant on high quality supplements and therefore more vulnerable to seasonal price changes
  • Business has higher input costs and is more dependent on stable milk pricing
  • Large intensive footprint within the property which may trigger separation distances (e.g. to neighbours)
  • Potential for significant delays in statutory and regulatory planning
  • Effluent management is a vital function of the business requiring advanced engineering solutions and skills
  • Potential for increased regulatory attention with odour emissions and community complaints
  • Not suitable to all cattle breeds (or genetics)
  • Reliant on contractor services with specialised machinery/equipment to manage many on farm activities (e.g. effluent cropping)
  • Higher production cows may require milking more frequently than twice daily.

System design considerations


  • Choose location that allows access to key infrastructure and resources required to operate the business (transport, power, water, labour)
  • Site preparations and investigations to ensure all infrastructure components consider environmental outcomes whilst supporting a cost effective farming system


  • Feed supply management plan needed on farm or off farm to ensure reliable feed supplies in to the future 
  • Feed bunker area and machinery required to handle and supply a range of supplementary feed types to the herd.


  • Structure must provide sufficient animal spacing for feeding, loafing and resting while promoting cow flow, comfort (lying) and wellbeing



  • Ventilation and cooling systems to sustain cow comfort and performance
  • Appropriately designed and engineered effluent management systems with the capability to handle liquid, slurry and solids at the expected volumes
  • Agronomic plan and machinery to recycle nutrients generated from the facilities to enhance crop production
  • Sufficient skilled labour and site management to undertake daily site operations including contingency planning

Overall likely costs

Facility inc concrete, steel, plumbing, electrical

4 row (11m2/cow) $/cow =


6 row (8m2/cow) $/cow =


Typically all up to build and operationalise the system allow $2900 per cow

Significant components

  • Flood wash tanks (cow alleys)
  • Bedding (sand annually)
  • Rubber mattresses (sand)
  • Earthworks
  • Effluent system
  • Mixer wagons
  • Tractor (120hp+)
  • Additional stock


  • Ongoing machinery maintenance costs (annually), fuel
  • Water supply
  • Power costs
  • Energy recovery systems

Other jobs

  • Sand extraction  and recovery management to replace stall losses
  • Regular stall preparation
  • Additional milking shifts

Adviser tips

  • A significant investment which requires sound financial and business advise
  • A farm system significantly removed from a grazing methodology, so requires specialised management
  • People management a critical aspect of the specialised management
Last updated: Sep 2023

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