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    Cow Living Space Cleaning And Maintenance

    Shovels, rakes, pitchforks, a wheel barrow, and other tools lean against a wall.
    Photo by Zan on Unsplash

    Cleaning and maintenance are important aspects of caring for cows. Providing a clean living space can help reduce the risk of certain health issues, and regular maintenance will keep spaces safer both for the cow residents and their human caregivers.

    Create And Maintain A Cleaning Schedule

    Though it’s important to check spaces each day and do any necessary spot cleaning, the frequency at which full cleanings are needed will be based on a variety of factors.

    When establishing cleaning schedules, keep the following in mind: 

    • The frequency at which an indoor space will need to be cleaned will depend on the number of residents, how much space they have, and how much time they spend indoors. There can be a great deal of variability between how much time cow residents spend indoors during the grazing and non-grazing seasons, so you may find that your cleaning routine needs to change seasonally. 
    • Certain areas may need to be cleaned more often than others. This might include the area around hay feeders and waters, in entryways, and in shade structures.
    • When first determining how often indoor spaces (or other parts of their living space, such as around hay feeders) must be cleaned, it might work well to evaluate the space daily for a period of time to determine if it needs to be spot-cleaned (making note of soiled areas) or if all the bedding must be removed and replaced. Tracking this information can help you determine if a set schedule makes sense. Keep in mind that the schedule may need to be adjusted seasonally. For example, you might find that during the winter, the indoor space needs to be fully cleaned each day, but during the summer, daily spot cleaning around their waters and then doing a full cleaning every X number of days will suffice. 
    • Regardless of your cleaning schedule, if bedding becomes wet or soiled, it must be replaced. In addition to wet areas caused by urine, keep in mind that water units can leak, and precipitation may blow into the space soaking certain areas that will need to be cleaned.

    Routine Cleaning

    Be sure to do the following during habitat cleaning:

    • Remove all bedding and any hay that has fallen on the ground. Use a stall deodorizer to neutralize odors and ammonia and absorb moisture before adding new bedding. 
    • Be sure to check for areas where bedding or hay can build up (such as around hay feeders, in or under mineral feeders, in small nooks, in the gap between a partial interior wall and exterior wall, behind open slider doors, etc.) and remove debris regularly.
    • Dust fans, ledges, and other surfaces to promote healthier air quality (this is best done after putting down fresh bedding).
    • Drinking water sources should be cleaned at least once per day and refilled with fresh, clean water. Because the cleaning process can result in bedding ending up in water sources, it’s a good idea to clean these after new bedding has been added to the space. 

    Further Reading
    Wondering what to do with all that poop? Check out our introductions to manure management and composting for more information.

    Seasonal Considerations

    As mentioned above, depending on your climate, you may find that cleaning needs change seasonally. Below, we’ll highlight some important seasonal considerations that may need to be incorporated into your routine cleaning practices.

    Cold Weather Considerations

    In cold climates, where cow poop freezes solid, you must be diligent about removing poop from their indoor space as well as main walkways outdoors. These frozen piles of poop become a trip hazard and can also be painful for cows to walk on. During freezing weather, you may also find that the area around waters becomes icy and will need to be addressed more often. Speaking of ice, remember that icy terrain is not safe for cow residents to walk on. While a slip and fall is serious for any resident, given their large size, slipping on the ice can lead to devastating and even life-ending injury, so it is imperative that cow residents not be allowed to access icy pathways or other slippery terrains. 

    Warm Weather Considerations

    In many regions, warm weather brings with it flies. Proper fly mitigation strategies are imperative to keep cow residents both comfortable and healthy. While a combination of strategies is often necessary, regular cleaning is an important component of a fly mitigation plan. Cow poop, soiled bedding, and old hay, straw, or grain are often used as breeding areas for flies, so keeping spaces clean is imperative when it comes to fly mitigation. It can be difficult to clean entire outdoor spaces, especially if cow residents have access to large, lush pastures, but poop in outdoor spaces that is in close proximity to indoor spaces should be removed regularly, especially waste in areas without vegetation. To make poop out in pasture spaces less welcoming to flies, you can manually break it up, which will cause it to dry out more quickly. Depending on your setup, this may be done with a rake or pitchfork or by using equipment such as a tractor and drag harrow.

    If you use water misters in your cow residents’ living space during warm weather, be sure to check around them for wet bedding and spot clean as needed.

    Wet Weather Considerations

    If your sanctuary is in an area where certain seasons are particularly rainy and muddy, you’ll need to watch that resident continue to have dry areas in which to walk and stand. If the muddy season occurs while residents are being fed hay, and your hay feeders are outside in areas that are not covered, the ground around the hay feeder will likely become a mud pit very quickly. Since residents spend a lot of time eating, this means they’ll be spending a lot of time standing in mud, which can lead to hoof issues. You’ll need to move hay feeders to drier areas often, recognizing that the new area will likely soon become muddy. If you can, providing residents with a covered area in which to eat hay (such as an open pavilion) will make it much easier to keep them out of the mud. You’ll want to treat this area as an extension of their indoor space and clean it regularly. 

    Deep Cleaning

    In addition to routine cleaning, be sure to schedule a few deep cleanings each year. This is the time to clean the entire space even more thoroughly, which may include the following:

    • Dusting and removing cobwebs in hard-to-reach areas that are difficult to do more regularly
    • Wiping down gates and feeders
    • Disinfecting non-porous surfaces
    • Digging out and replacing the top level of dirt flooring (or digging out and replacing dirt in specific areas as needed)

    Keep The Weather In Mind When Scheduling Cleaning and Maintenance
    Some projects just aren’t safe or reasonable to do with residents around, so you may have to restrict their access to certain spaces. Avoid projects that require locking residents out of their indoor spaces during uncomfortable weather or unsafe conditions, and ensure residents always have access to food and water.

    Cleaning Supplies

    Suggested supplies for habitat cleaning include:

    • Pitchfork, rake, and/or shovel to remove bedding. In larger spaces, you may opt for equipment such as a skid steer loader with a bucket attachment to scoop and remove bedding.
    • Non-toxic stall deodorizer. Avoid using hydrated lime as a stall deodorizer – it’s not safe for you or your residents to breathe it in, and it can also cause skin and eye irritation.
    • Large buckets to hold old/soiled bedding or, alternatively, larger equipment to hold and haul off old bedding, such as a tractor with a tow-behind dump cart.
    • Long-handled scraper tool to help pry poop frozen off the ground
    • Broom to remove cobwebs and sweep up dust/debris
    • Long-handled duster to dust fans
    • Animal-safe disinfectant or cleaner, such as dilute chlorhexidine or Bac-Out, to clean non-porous surfaces
    • Cloth rags to wipe down ledges, window sills, gates, fans, etc.
    • Face masks to protect personnel from dust inhalation

    Check out our supply checklist resource for more helpful supplies to consider keeping on hand!


    You should always be on the lookout for areas of the habitat in need of maintenance so you can address issues in a timely manner, but some maintenance issues are most apparent when bedding is removed, so be sure to closely examine the habitat during regular cleaning. While there are a variety of things that can break or otherwise require maintenance, the following are of particular note:

    • Dirt floors (which are our recommendation for cow residents) can develop divots over time, and these can result in injury to residents or humans. Be sure to fill these in as needed. You also may find that after repeated cleanings, the floor is no longer higher than the outside ground, resulting in drainage issues. You’ll need to add dirt to maintain a slightly elevated interior space.
    • In addition to fixing anything that appears to be in need of repair, be sure to inspect all cooling and ventilation systems prior to the time at which you typically need them (i.e. inspect all fans before warm weather hits). If you need to use heating devices for certain residents, these also must be thoroughly inspected before use. This will allow you to fix or replace devices as needed and ensure that you are able to keep residents comfortable.
    • Before cold weather hits, be sure to check the living space for gaps or cracks that could create a draft. We mentioned above that dirt floors wear away over time, and this can leave a gap between the floor and the bottom of structure walls. Filling in the floor will help reduce drafts. Similarly, warped or broken wood boards or cracks in walls can create a draft and should be repaired.
    • Most wood siding will need to be repainted or restrained as needed to keep it protected and prolong its life. Be sure to use paints and stains that are safe to use around animals.
    • If the structure has metal siding, be aware that it can develop sharp edges when damaged, which will need to be addressed in order to prevent injury.
    • Be sure to inspect fencing regularly so that any necessary maintenance can be performed. Broken fencing should be addressed immediately, even if it is with a temporary fix. If this is not possible, residents should be moved to a different outdoor space or otherwise kept away from the broken section of fence until it has been addressed. If residents haven’t been in a particular outdoor space in a while, it’s generally a good idea to walk the fence line before giving them access to the space. It’s also wise to check fences following any storms that have the potential to cause damage.
    • Similarly, you may find that gates need regular repair or adjustments. A large cow who rubs against or bumps into a gate can easily knock things out of place, affecting gate hinges and latches. Without necessary adjustments, gates may be difficult to latch/unlatch or may not open fully.

    Pasture Maintenance And Renovation
    In order to ensure pasture health and proper nutrition for your residents, you’ll need to keep pastures properly maintained, and you may find that you need to reseed them. If this is not something you have experience with, it can be helpful to work with your local cooperative extension to assess your pasture spaces and determine any improvements that may be needed.

    Now that you’ve got an idea of the cleaning and maintenance required, be sure to come up with a plan to keep on top of these tasks. Doing so will help in maintaining your cow residents’ health, comfort, and safety!

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