Calves, as a model for juvenile horses, need only one sprint per week to experience increased bone strength

J Anim Sci. 2019 Jul 30;97(8):3300-3312. doi: 10.1093/jas/skz202.


Previous research has determined that maintaining young animals in stalls is detrimental to their bone health, while the addition of 50 to 82-m sprints 5 d/week aids in counteracting the reduction of bone strength from confinement. The current research aims to determine if 1 or 3 d/week of sprinting affords the same benefits to bone as 5 d/week of sprinting compared to animals confined with no sprinting. Twenty-four Holstein bull calves were obtained from the Michigan State University Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center. At 9 wk of age, calves were randomly assigned to treatments of 1, 3, or 5 d/week of sprint exercise, or to the confined control group sprinted 0 d/week. Each treatment had 6 calves. Individual sprinting bouts included a single sprint down a 71-m concrete aisle. For the duration of the 6-wk study, calves were housed at the MSU Beef Cattle Teaching and Research Center in stalls which afforded calves room to stand, lay down, and turn around. Serum was collected weekly via jugular venipuncture to obtain concentrations of osteocalcin (OC) and C-telopeptide crosslaps of type I collagen (CTX-1)-markers of bone formation and degradation, respectively. Sprints were videotaped weekly to determine stride frequency and sprint velocity. On day 42, calves were humanely euthanized at the Michigan State University Meat Lab and both front limbs were immediately harvested. Computed tomography scans and mechanical testing were performed on the left fused third and fourth metacarpal bones. Serum OC concentration was greatest for calves sprinted 5 d/week (P < 0.001). Calves sprinted 5 d/week had both greater stride frequency (P < 0.05) and lower sprint velocity (P < 0.05). All exercise treatments experienced greater dorsal cortical widths compared to control animals (P < 0.01). Through mechanical testing, fracture forces of all sprinting treatments were determined to be greater than the control treatment (P < 0.02). Results from this study support that sprinting 1, 3, or 5 d/week during growth can increase bone health and cause favorable alterations in bone markers. While all exercise treatments had over a 20% increase to fracture force, calves sprinted 1 d/week sprinted only 426 m over the 6-wk study and still experienced over a 20% increase in bone strength compared to confined calves. This study demonstrates the remarkably few strides at speed needed to enhance bone strength and emphasizes the danger to skeletal strength if sprinting opportunities are not afforded.

Keywords: bone; confinement; exercise; horse; juvenile; strength.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Bone Resorption / physiopathology
  • Bone and Bones / physiology
  • Cattle
  • Collagen Type I / blood
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Male
  • Osteocalcin / blood
  • Osteogenesis / physiology
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Random Allocation


  • Biomarkers
  • Collagen Type I
  • Osteocalcin