New technologies for better claw health

Author: Kristine Piccart & Anneleen De Visscher (ILVO) - Date: January 23, 2018

Lameness and claw lesions in dairy cattle have far-reaching consequences, in terms of farm economics and animal welfare. It has been estimated that lameness costs no less than €53 per cow per year. That’s a loss of more than € 3.400 per year on an average dairy farm with 65 cows. Furthermore, accurate detection and timely treatment of lame cows is still a serious bottleneck in practice.

Pictured: Trying out a thermal camera in the dairy barn. 

That’s why the 4D4F partners ILVO and the M3-BIORES research group of KU Leuven organized another workshop on the latest innovations concerning the monitoring of lame cows.

The workshop was held on January 22, 2019. The participants included a mix of farmers, veterinarians, claw trimmers and researchers. Deborah Piette (KU Leuven) gave an overview of the latest research done on the detection of lameness, including a camera that measures the back arch of dairy cows as an indicator for lameness and a pressure-sensitive walkover system, called “Gaitwise”. Besides technologies under development, Deborah also presented technologies that are already available on the market, such as the CowAlert system by IceRobotics. After a brief introduction to thermography for health monitoring by Kristine Piccart (ILVO), the participants got the chance to try out two different thermal cameras in the barn: a high-end, stand-alone model (FLIR T540) and a more affordable camera (FLIR One Pro) in conjunction with a smart phone. Throughout the day, there was room for discussion between the different participants, each with their own expertise and experience.

New technologies, like accelerometers and thermal cameras, might help farmers identify cows in need of treatment and might be able to pinpoint the exact location of the lesion. Vets and claw trimmers can also benefit from these technologies to help create a farm-specific, systematic strategy to combat lameness. Although lameness problems will never be eradicated, adopting a proper, farm-specific lameness plan goes a long way.