Shepley, E., Lensink, J., Vasseur, E. 2020. Cow in Motion: A review of the impact of housing systems on movement opportunity of dairy cows and implications on locomotor activity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 230, 105026.
As humans, we recognize the importance of exercise. We go to the gym, walk our dogs, and ride our horses. Even our hamsters get a wheel to run on. Considering this, it is surprising that, when it comes to the production animals that make up the bulk of domestic Animals the concept of ‘exercise’ becomes more muddled. There is empirical evidence of improvements to health and behavior that have been linked to what has been perceived in the literature as the provision of exercise to dairy cows as well as of the preference for cows to access environments like pasture often associated with exercise. More unclear is whether these benefits and preferences are a direct result of exercise or due to the increased movement opportunity provided by the housing and management methods that are implemented in these studies. To address this conceptual quandary, it is necessary to look at the methods used to measure exercise in the literature. For quantitative evaluations of exercise, researchers turn to measures of the cow’s locomotor activity, looking at the distance, speed, and or duration of time spent moving, often with the aid of technologies such as GPS and pedometers to obtain a more comprehensive analyses of locomotor activity. Equally important to the method of measurement of locomotor activity are the qualitative factors associated with exercise and locomotor activity in the literature, including: 1) changes to characteristics of the cow’s housing environment (e.g. space allowance/cow, walking surface, stall hardware), and 2) changes to the duration of time/frequency that cows are managed under certain housing options (e.g. provision of outdoor access). Moreover, providing a cow with an environment in which she can exercise does not guarantee that she will utilize the resources provided to do so. Considering all of the existing knowledge, it becomes more apparent that the positive outcomes of these studies cannot be attributed to exercise, per se, but to the level of movement opportunity provided to the cow. Furthermore, level of movement opportunity may be dependent on the preferences and needs of individual cow, but is also ultimately limited and/or facilitated by the cow’s housing system and characteristics therein. This change in perspective can lead to an improved ability to make suitable recommendations to producers on how to keep their cows healthy, fulfill a wider range of behavioral needs, and keep their cows in motion.