4D4F submission: Miracle Tech thermal imaging cameras

COP prize submission. Author: Miracle Tech - Date: September 26, 2018

Thermal imaging technology has come a long way over the last few years making it more practical to the farming industry. Thermal images are created using infrared radiation (IR); most things emit some form of IR including animals. By using IR to detect temperature readings the camera generates a thermal image by applying a colour palette to the different intensities of infrared radiation. 

Thermal imaging is ideal for use around livestock as it is a non-invasive way of detecting and monitoring problems. Due to a massive reduction in thermal camera costs over the last few years thermal imaging is set to become a must have for all livestock farmers.

There are many different models of thermal imaging cameras to choose from; thermal tablets, hand held cameras, CCTV cameras, surveillance cameras and drones. Since our first demonstration last December we have found the PK160 thermal imaging tablet (pictured below) to be a real favourite with the livestock sector. This device is an android-based mini-tablet with a powerful thermal camera and digital camera built into it. You can run all your farm management apps on it, including smart sensors and have the added bonus of a thermal camera all in one very handy, strong and water resistant device.

Thermal imaging cameras have a real place on the dairy farm and with more research the things you will be able to do with them will only grow. As a stand-alone device thermal imaging can help to detect what the problem might be in an animal that is walking very badly! It can detect where the hotspots are and then treat the animal according to the injury or disease, instead of by guessing what the problem is.  

The image above shows a stock bull that was very lame. On looking at him you would have said that he had a problem with his front foot, indeed that is what the vet had diagnosed and had treated him with antibiotics for. On inspecting him with a thermal camera we actually found the problem to be in the shoulder, this in turn was putting pressure on his rear end. The vet involved was amazed by our findings and completely agreed that the problem was in the shoulder meaning he only needed anti-inflammatories instead of antibiotics.

Thermal imaging cameras also work very well with other devices that are on the market to help in the ongoing battle of early detection of problems with stock, indeed it is probably fair to say that they will actually complement many livestock sensors. At an on-farm trail with a major sensor manufacturer earlier in the year we proved just how well the two devices work together. This has led to said manufacturer investing in a camera of their own with more to follow in the future. At the trial we used 7 cows that were all showing signs of being lame on the lameness alert system, 5 of these cows actually showed no visual signs of being lame. 

When inspecting the 5 cows that showed no signs of any problems with the thermal cameras we found that 4 of them actually did have specific foot issues, these being white line disease, sole ulcers and digital dermatitis. This stockman involved in the trial agreed that he would probably not have given these cows a second look if it had not been for the thermal cameras and was very happy to have been able to treat the animals earlier than normal. He was also amazed at how easy it was to use the cameras without ever seeing one before. People at the trial were amazed at how well the two technologies worked together.

This just goes to prove how well thermal-imaging cameras can adapt to any dairy farming system. They can be very successfully used as a stand-alone device or incorporated into any other systems you may be running; whatever the system though thermal imaging will help to detect problems early, meaning earlier treatment. This in turn will result in less suffering for the animal and almost definitely a reduction in antibiotic usage.

Moving forward we are working with a couple of Universities on some very exciting projects. One is looking at how eye temperature and body weight can be measured and used in the development of dairy replacements and the other is a very exciting project looking at how thermal imaging can help to more accurately time artificial insemination to improve conception rates. There is also work being done on many other things including the early detection of mastitis.

One thing is for sure, we have only just started with thermal imaging in the dairy sector and as we find more applications thermal imaging will only get bigger and better!