Good locomotion characteristics are important for productivity, welfare and longevity of animals. In order to improve locomotion of animals we need to gain fundamental insights and translate them to practical solutions, by optimizing housing systems, ensuring plenty exercise and rest possibilities for animals, and breeding robust animals.
Together WIAS and Breed4Food organised a seminar entitled “Locomotion in the spotlight: from fundamental insights to practical solutions” on June 13th. Experts from different inter-disciplinary fields were brought together and discussed locomotion aspects with a just as diverse audience.
Mechanical loads applied to claws (or hoofs or feet) and joints can be very informative on where and what causes the stress related to impaired locomotion. This information can be translated to improvements in housing systems such as softer flooring systems, but also insights in the importance of rest and exercise. Dr Gussekloo (Wageningen University & Research) presented loading patterns of a claw straight on the floor or tip towing on slatted concrete alley floors showing the compressive strain differences at the soft tissue between the sole horn layer and the distal phalangus, which is also the location of sole horn lesions.
Welfare friendly cattle housing
By mining literature, Prof. Groot Koerkamp (Wageningen University & Research) showed that the most welfare friendly cattle housing system is a year round pasture based system. Floor type and space per cow are important factors, while herd size itself seemed not relevant. In practise, housing systems have not drastically changed. The majority of cows are housed in cubicles, but the cubicles became larger and there is more space per cow. A limited number of new housing concepts have been realised in the Netherlands, e.g. the Kwatrijn concept.
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Dr. Aniek Bouwman (Wageningen University & Research) tries to fill the gap between sensor technology and their potential to upscale phenotyping of locomotion for animal breeding. Currently breeding candidates are scored once in their lifetime by a well-trained human observer, which is a valuable heritable selection criteria. Sensor technologies like accelerometers and camera’s will become very informative tools to measure locomotion objectively at a large scale to identify locomotion issues as early as possible. Several sensors are currently being tested for their accuracy to predict the human locomotion score and their practical feasibility on farm.
Renewing of cartilage
Prof. Rene van Weeren (University of Utrecht) quotes the main historic insights of Julius Wolff and William Hunter on bone: once it is destroyed, it never recovers. Also renewing of cartilage takes a long time. In horses, mechanical load studies showed that early life exercise is important for optimal cartilage development before maturation to decrease the chance of joint pathology later in life. Therefore, it is important to exercise young horses, which is probably also true for other animals according to Prof. van Weeren.
Use your muscles
Dr. Jurriaan the Groot (Leiden University Medical Centre) also emphasis this for human movement: use your muscles. In contrast to bone and cartilage, the turnover of muscle is high and by being active throughout your life your muscles stay young. His work focusses on recovery of spasticity after a stroke. It is important to discriminate between neural and structural damage. With a neuromechanical approach you can discriminate between healthy people and patients, but also see differences over time between patients with a good and bad recovery. This really benefits the development of treatment to be tailored to the underlying problem. Some of the treatments involve precision orthotics, robotic medical aids that control the position and motion. Such aids can be improved with insights from fundamental studies, but also as technology develops.