Dairy cattle, lighting matters!


Although it is often overlooked, lighting is an important part of cattle management. It can directly influence cattle’s welfare and performance. We know lighting is very important for cattle.

With over 40 years of experience, HATO Agricultural Lighting has become an expert in agricultural lighting.

It is important to really look at the cattle’s needs when providing them with a proper light climate. Lighting influences the biological clock, movements through the house and social behaviour. There are several aspects of lighting which are of major importance such as: the light spectrum, light distribution, (non-) flickering, intensities and the photoperiod.

Cattle’s vision

Cattle are day- time animals, they show diurnal behaviour with some peaks around grazing activities. Cattle have a panoramic vision, this means they have a 340° vision. Cattle can see things in all directions except what is right behind them. That is also the reason cattle may kick back when it’s approached from behind, they’ll perceive it as danger.

Another specific character of cattle’s eyes is the tapetum lucidum. This is an area of pigment located in the back of the eyeball. It becomes visible when a light shines into the cattle’s eyes, their eyes will look if they are glowing. What actually happens is that the light that enters the eye, reflects within the eye and amplifies low levels of light, this improves their night vision.

Light spectrum

Cattle have a dichromatic vision, this means they have only two types of functioning colour receptors in their eyes. This means they can only see two pure spectral light colours. This in contrast to humans which can perceive three pure spectral light colours.

The two receptors or so called cones are the ones focused mainly on the green and blue part of a cattle’s eye (See figure below). The visible spectrum of cattle reaches from about 400nm to 680nm with peak wavelengths at 451 and 555nm.

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Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean they don’t perceive red light. Research shows us they do perceive it, but less and in a different way than species with trichromatic vision.

By adapting the lights to the cattle’s visible spectrum, they are able to see their environment better. This will contribute to less stressed cattle and they’ll use their environment more optimal.

Cattle vs Human spectrum

The difference between the human and cattle spectrum


Light distribution

Cattle have a poor depth perception. When objects or shades are on the ground or in front of them, it is likely the cattle will stop and check it out before proceeding.

That is also the reason it is important to make sure there are no shades inside the house. Especially in places you want them to go, so feeding, water and milking areas have to be approachable without any shades or blockages.

By correct placement of lamps with a perfect distribution it is possible to lit up the whole house with a perfect light distribution. This will contribute to the cattle going to the wanted locations more easily, to be more at ease and eventually reduce stress.

To make sure light distribution is optimal it is important to make a light plan before you buy new lamps. This way you are ensured of the best light placements for your cattle.


In the figure below the rapid changes in light output of a lamp is shown. These rapid changes are called flickering and may be perceived consciously and unconsciously. However all species have a certain frequency in which it is no longer perceivable, but this differs per animal and also in what kind of mood that animal is in. When cattle already feels stressed or maybe ill, flickering lights can be the final straw which stresses them out even more, even at high frequencies or flickering rates.

Light flicker amplitude

Graphical explanation of flickering of light


For this reason we find it important to provide lamps which are 100% Flicker- free. This to make sure flickering will never be that final straw which pushes them over the edge.

Light intensity

Providing houses with the right intensity of lighting will help to increase performances. Research has shown that providing dairy cows (in each life phase) with high lux levels can result in additional milk yields.

A high light intensity is important in each phase of a cows’ life. Most of the time the young dairy cattle is overlooked, but especially in this phase it is important to provide them with proper lighting. This to have a proper start at life.

When providing a high intensity of light with a correct distribution, cattle will feel more at ease and will easily go to the milking robot or parlour.

Also for the workers it is more convenient. They will be able to see their stock better and see earlier if they are on heat, or when somethings wrong.


A photoperiod is the period during the day in which lights are turned on.

Each life phase consists of different requirements. Research tells us that young cattle and dairy cows need long day lengths. This means that lighting is even more important during winter time, this to prevent the seasonal effects they would usually have. During the dry period you need to provide them with shorter days to simulate winter time.

Research shows that with the correct lux- levels and photoperiods, milk yields and fertility will increase.


It is important to provide dairy cattle with proper lighting, this has a major impact on cattle welfare and performances. When providing cattle with lighting that is specifically designed to fit their needs in each life phase, will improve their behaviour, usage of the house and performances. When providing a proper light distribution cattle will startle less and will feel less stressed, this will influence movements through the house. Adjusting light intensities and photoperiods to the right life phase, will eventually improve milk yields significantly.

Make sure your lights suit your and your animal’s needs. Request your free, tailor-made light plan by contacting us.

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