An important factor in a dairy cow’s life is a well-functioning musculoskeletal system. It is important that the animal can move easily, to graze, to eat at the feeding gate and to be milked. The physical condition and vitality of the dairy cow is also of great importance to dairy cow lifespan. The project "Dairy cow exercise for a longer lifespan” aims to investigate the impact of regular exercise on dairy cattle health, with financial support of the Dutch “Melkveefonds”.
The level of physical activity of dairy cattle is often relatively limited, especially when housed indoors. Physical exercise may contribute to a reduction in health disorders (e.g. lameness, metabolic disorders). During grazing, cows will have relatively more exercise than indoors, but grazing cows also enjoy a different ration (fresh grass) and different housing (soft bedding / walking surface). This project specifically investigates the effects of the factor "exercise" on dairy cow health.
Dairy cow exercise in a treadmill
In a trial at Dairy Campus Lelystad, 36 lactating cows have been divided into two groups. The control group will stay indoors, while the treatment group will be subjected to a training schedule for 8 weeks. They will walk twice a day for 45 minutes in a treadmill at a speed of 3.4 km/h. All animals will be closely monitored during the experiment; not only feed intake and milk production are recorded, but also cow behaviour and heart rate are monitored with individual sensors. These parameters will be combined to determine the effect of additional exercise on locomotion and the physical condition of dairy cattle.
Increasing dairy cow lifespan
During the trial the effects of physical training of lactating dairy cows on feed intake, milk production, behaviour, physical condition, energy metabolism and health will be determined. The ultimate goal is to reduce involuntary culling and increase dairy cow lifespan, as locomotion problems are one of the main reasons for culling worldwide. A longer dairy cow lifespan is not only important for animal welfare reasons and the image of the dairy industry; it has also economic benefits, by a combination of increased life production and lower production costs.