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Bovine thermography: FLIR used to keep bulls in form

Supplier: FLIR Systems Australia
17 July, 2007

Thermography is becoming an established and recognised tool in veterinary medicine. Equine thermography and inspection of zoo animals to detect inflammation or monitor gestation are well-known applications. Many animals are valuable assets, difficult to handle, and need utmost care to avoid stress.

Infrared thermography can also be used to preserve other valuable animal assets of another kind: livestock breeding. FLIR Systems has sponsored a relevant research project. Fleckvieh is the second largest cattle breed in the world. The sturdy breed, well suited for an abundant milk and beef production, originates from the Bavarian pre-alpine region. At present, there are 41 million Fleckvieh animals worldwide. Trading and exporting semen of the best, awarded and highly-priced Fleckvieh bulls is an established business. Against this background, efficient medical inspection of the animals is an important issue.

A study proving the economic plausibility of thermographic inspections of cattle has been presented by Christoph Gschoederer at the Fachhochschule Weihenstephan, a subsidiary of the Munich University of Applied Sciences and a renowned school for agricultural, food, and, last but not least, brewing science. The survey, which showed convincing results, was conducted at the artificial insemination centre and breed station at Grub, in the Munich area. This a modern facility supported by Fleckvieh breeders from the southern Bavarian region and by the raising export figures of its Fleckvieh genetics to large agricultural markets in Eastern Europe, the Americas, and southern Africa.

On site, it quickly became evident that an infrared camera is able to conduct a wide range of useful examinations of livestock:

  • Time-saving and safe body temperature measurement
  • Early detection of inflammations at the animal’s extremities
  • Easy inspection of testicles function
  • Easy inspection of the udder health
  • Heat control
  • Mobile inspection of the young bulls prior to their purchase at the cattle market
  • Monitoring of waiting bulls in quarantine

The principle of veterinary thermography is clear: infection or injuries activate the animal bodies’ natural resistance mechanism. This is marked by a movement of energy throughout the tissue, which is manifested through higher blood flow and reflected in the surface temperature. In addition, edemas can be traced as pathologically cool zones on the body surface. Not only damage to tissue, but also overload on certain joints have an impact on the blood flow, resulting in higher surface temperature.

Thermography for preventive hoof care

Healthy hooves are an important issue for livestock breeding: just like strong-limbed cows are a prerequisite to a good milk production, good hooves are vital to enable the stock bulls to complete their major task successfully. In addition, calculations show that bull lameness in a milk cow stable can add up to 300 Euros per case. Preventive action is required to avoid economic losses caused by lameness.

Gschoederer’s project was based on a regular inspection of 50 bulls with a FLIR Systems ThermaCAM P65 camera. All animals were healthy. They did not display clinical anomalies or lameness. To observe and interpret the images, the temperature difference is decisive, rather than the absolute temperature itself. Gschoederer has been impressed by the accuracy and imaging capabilities of the infrared camera:
“A high-end infrared camera as the ThermaCAM P65 with such a resolution, an accuracy of 0.1°C, its large screen and its many user options is a pleasure to work with”, he said.

Thermography itself does not give an exact diagnose. But its strength lies in its flawless capacity to select animals, in this case bulls or cows with anomalies for further clinical veterinary examination. And here, thermography managed to reach a hit ratio of nearly 100%; clinical checks of the bulls’ hooves images gathered by Gschoederer confirmed all anomalies detected with the infrared camera.

Veterinary inflammation diagnostics with infrared

The benefits of thermography for inflammation diagnose in veterinary medicine are convincing: infrared cameras allow the operator to measure surfaces without contact, stress-free and safely, to scan and directly compare extremities in one image, to detect syndromes and to compare their subsequent phases. “We see a great potential for this technology”, says Dr. Thomas Grupp, general manager of Bavarian Fleckvieh Genetics, “not only at our insemination centre, but also for use in dairy herds, where infrared thermography can be a powerful preventive method against digital dermatitis and other livestock diseases which badly affect production.”

About Infrared Thermography

Thermal imaging, also called thermography, is the production of non-contact infrared or “heat” pictures from which temperature measurements can be made. Portable infrared cameras scan equipment and structures, then instantly convert the thermal images into pictures in a JPEG format for monitoring and analysis. Thermal imaging increases efficiency and maximizes safety in many industries and environments and is rapidly expanding into new markets.

About FLIR Systems

FLIR Systems is the world leader in the design and manufacturing of infrared cameras. The company has over 40 years of experience and more than 50,000 infrared cameras currently in use worldwide for applications including predictive maintenance, research & development, process monitoring, automation and many others. FLIR Systems has four manufacturing plants located in the USA and Sweden and operates direct sales offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Australia. The company numbers over 1,300 dedicated infrared specialists, and serves international markets through a network of 60 regional offices providing sales and support functions.