Thermal imaging validates lameness alerts

Author: Richard Lloyd (IfA), May 8, 2018

The benefits of using precision technology are always greater when the results are acted upon by an experienced stockperson. A 4D4F workshop, led by Innovation for Agriculture (IfA), demonstrated clearly that combining technologies can lead to conclusions that go beyond those that even an experienced stockman can make.

The workshop, held at Bridge Farm Glastonbury (by kind permission of David Cotton, and Herdsman Steve Crowther) was designed to see if hand- held thermal imaging cameras (provided by Satir through Miracle Tech) could be useful in providing diagnostic information about cows that were appearing on CowAlert’s lameness action lists.

CowAlert categorises cows into three groups : green, amber alert, and red alert. 7 cows were separated out, all 6 red alerts and a visually lame amber alert cow.  5 of these cows showed no visual signs of lameness.

Each cow was examined visually before inspection with a thermal imaging camera, and a decision to examine further was made based on the results from the thermal images and historical lameness data from CowAlert.

5 of the 7 cows were then examined on a Wopa foot trimming crush.  The following results were obtaine

  1. Specific foot issues were identified on 4 of the 5 cows showing no sign of lameness.
    • White line disease
    • Sole Ulcer
    • Digital Dermatitis
  2. The thermal imaging cameras picked up a secondary issue (white line disease) in a cow with swollen hocks, that would not have been identified by the stockman.
  3. Thermal imaging cameras identified the specific affected claw, motivating the stockman to look deeper into the claw, and resolving lameness issues at a much earlier time.
  4. The length of time a cow had been on alert was also significant. With thermal cameras confirming bruising on a claw, which was only identifiable from the underside of the claw.
  5. Operators with no prior experience of using imaging cameras were able to quickly make use of the information provided.

Innovation for Agriculture’s Richard Lloyd was astounded on how two different technologies could combine so well. “Lameness is one of biggest costs in dairy farming and is often under estimated. I have seen today that thermal imaging cameras, in conjunction with CowAlert’s lameness monitoring, can have a big impact on farm profitability and animal welfare. Cows that showed no visual sign of lameness were identified as lame by technology and treated much earlier, and more accurately, than was possible before."