Adequate time lying down is often considered an important aspect of dairy cow welfare. We examine what is known about cows’ motivation to lie down and the consequences for health and other indicators of biological function when this behavior is thwarted. We review the environmental and animal-based factors that affect lying time in the context of animal welfare. Cows can be highly motivated to lie down. They show rebound lying behavior after periods of forced standing and will sacrifice other activities, such as feeding, to lie down for an adequate amount of time. They will work, by pushing levers or weighted gates, to lie down and show possible indicators of frustration when lying behavior is thwarted. Some evidence suggests that risk of lameness is increased in environments that provide unfavorable conditions for cows to lie down and cows are forced to stand. Lameness itself can result in longer lying times, whereas mastitis reduces it. Cow-based factors such as reproductive status, age, and milk production influence lying time, but the welfare implications of these differences are unknown. Lower lying times are reported in pasture-based systems, dry lots, and bedded packs (9 h/d) compared with tiestalls and freestalls (10 to 12 h/d) in cross-farm research. Unfavorable conditions, including too few lying stalls for the number of cows, hard or wet lying surfaces, inadequate bedding, stalls that are too small or poorly designed, heat, and rain all reduce lying time. Time constraints, such as feeding or milking, can influence lying time. However, more information is needed about the implications of mediating factors such as the effect of the standing surface (concrete, pasture, or other surfaces) and cow behavior while standing (e.g., being restrained, walking, grazing) to understand the effect of low lying times on animal welfare. Many factors contribute to the difficulty of finding a valid threshold for daily lying time to use in the assessment of animal welfare. Although higher lying times often correspond with cow comfort, and lower lying times are seen in unfavorable conditions, exceptions occur, namely when cows lie down for longer because of disease or when they spend more time standing because of estrus or parturition, or to engage in other behaviors. In conclusion, lying behavior is important to dairy cattle, but caution and a full understanding of the context and the character of the animals in question is needed before drawing firm conclusions about animal welfare from measures of lying time.
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