The Winchester Pipe Rolls refer to cowhouses in the Court House curia in the middle ages but they did not appear on lesser farms until after the 1780s. Until then, most cows had been folded outdoors, like sheep, within mobile hurdle enclosures. Most farmers kept some cows, usually Herefords, with up to half a dozen in milk, and made some pale-coloured butter and cheese. They fed the stubble field side-by-side with the sheep and after the hay was cut they had exclusive use of water-meadows until October or November, when they went into the yards. Here they fed chiefly on straw, which barely sustained them. (Everything on the farm was done to please the sheep.)
The reasons for bringing cattle indoors in the early modern period were, firstly, the damage caused to winter pastures by the hooves of wandering cattle, especially on clay soils, and secondly, the convenience of collecting manure from housed cattle to be distributed over arable fields. Also known as a ‘byre’, the cowhouse had a lower and wider door and rougher beams than the barn. Cows needed a constant supply of water, provided by a farmyard pond. Cows were either tied to stakes or restrained in stalls by wooden clamps. As with horses, loose boxes were used to house sick cows and bulls, or for fattening cattle and in some cow-houses, as in stables, there were haylofts above the stalls. As noted, cows were sometimes housed in the aisles of large barns.