Lighting in Dairy Housing

11-9 Lighting

Lighting accounts for 16-20% of energy used on a dairy farm on average. With the days getting shorter, now is a good time to check dairy housing lighting to make sure lights are clean, working properly, and emitting enough light for both workers and animals. Below are some good tips to keep in mind as we start losing more daylight.

Lighting Design

Whether building a new barn from scratch or looking to improve/upgrade a current lighting system, the first step is to layout the lighting design for the space. See the table below for recommended illumination levels on the work area (where light is being utilized) for various areas throughout the dairy.  While designing the layout light fixtures, it makes sense to also lay down the electrical distribution and controls right away. Make sure there is a switch at every main entrance, and anywhere else that you feel it might be necessary.

Which light is right?

Deciding which lamps or lighting fixtures to use is the next step. Is there enough natural light through openings in the barn that you only need to supplement at night? Or is lighting poor throughout the barn where several lights spaced close together are needed to provide enough light? Choosing fixtures with reflective areas can increase light production and efficiency. Keeping walls and ceilings clean also provide more reflective areas for light to bounce off of.

There are several different types of lights that vary in benefits and disadvantages depending on personal needs. Lamps include: incandescent, florescent, halogen, high-pressure sodium, metal halide, and LED. The most important factors to look at when choosing a light is efficiency, life span, starting temperature and warm-up period (if needed), color of the light, and how much glare the lamp gives off. Keep in mind, no matter what light is chosen, it will gradually decrease output over time through natural wear and getting covered with dust/dirt from the barn. It might be a good idea to keep in mind how easy the lighting fixtures are to clean.

 How Much Light Exposure?

There are two main lighting types for dairy, either long day lighting or short day lighting. Both have been researched quite thoroughly in regards to cow comfort and milk production. Short day lighting is when the cows are exposed to about 8 hours of light (anything less than 12 hours will show short-day responses), and 16 hours of dark, simulating a winter day. This method works best for dry cows.

Long day lighting is 16-18 hours of exposure to light with 6-8 hours of dark, simulating a summer day, is best for fresh or lactating heifers and cows. Long day lighting is shown to increase milk production by suppressing melatonin secretions and allowing other hormones to generate that aid in milk production. For long day lighting, there should be lights everywhere the cattle are, not just in the feed areas. Long day lighting also increases growth rates in heifers. 

For both light schedules, the “dark” hours should still be somewhat lit for cattle and worker safety. Red bulbs or lights with a dimmer switch are the best option, so that workers can still see to do their job, and the cows don’t trip over anything. Timers would be a good investment regardless of which lighting schedule is chosen. 


Recommended illumination levels for the milking center

Work Area or Task

Illumination Level (footcandle)

Parlor Room


General Lighting 


Operator’s Pit 


Milk Room


General Lighting 


Washing Area 


Bulk Tank Interior 


Loading Platform


Utility or Equipment Room 


Holding Area 


Treatment and Maternity Areas


General Lighting 


Treatment or Surgery 




Feeding Area–Free Stall Barn 





“Dairy Housing Lighting for Convenience & Performance.” Penn State Extension

Dairy Lighting System for Free Stall Barns and Milking Centers.” MilkProduction

Comments are closed.


As an essential business supporting food and agriculture, Patz Corporation is taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers and communities.