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A New Way To Measure Temperature

There is a brand new, quicker and absolutely innocuous way to measure cattle s or for that matter any animals temperature. It is called infrared thermography (IT) and is now in the practical testing stages as to how to implement commercial applications. Research has been ongoing over the last decade to perfect the science behind it. The research has been a collaborative effort between federal and provincial agriculture department. It makes use of a very fast infrared camera to record up to 60 images per second and measures very accurately the radiated temperature. The area around the eye is used most commonly (Infrared Orbital Thermography).

I personally have seen this same type of technology used years ago looking at the temperature of bull testicles. This temperature should be lower than body temperature in order for sperm to develop and survive normally. Detecting abnormalities in this temperature gradient is another tool for selecting infertile bulls.

Researchers have found the area around the eye is not only easy to access but correlates well with body temperature and in the event of an impending temperature increase, orbital temperature rises about four days before the actual body temperature increases. In the beef industry this may be used as an early indicator of respiratory disease, for instance. What a beautiful tool if we knew up to four days in advance of a potential disease situation. With today s long-acting antibiotics a true preventative program could be initiated on an individual basis.

With increasing economies of scale and technology advances the cost of these cameras has been going down plus they have gotten smaller and portable so commercial applications are what will be tested next. What researchers Dr. Al Schaeffer at Lacombe Research Centre and others found was that orbital temperature generally runs about 4 centigrade under core body temperature. With the camera taking as many images as it does and linking it to a RFID tag we conceivably could record temperatures without human intervention other than watching a monitor screen. Currently large feedlots use very accurate rectal thermometers but they still have limitations on time plus labour as it is a manual operation. With large numbers of cattle and increasing labour costs, this alone makes this new type of technology desirable.

There has always been the argument that if we could give antibiotics just before animals get sick disease could be prevented. With beef quality assurance, drug residues, and antibiotic resistance becoming top priorities infrared thermography could help in all these areas.

By predicting the potential for an undifferentiated fever (disease) days in advance you have the potential to thwart disease before the animal even gets sick, It would be a massive benefi t. Likewise, if a large percentage of cattle were already showing an increrase in orbital temperature then that whole pen could be metaphylactically treated to eliminate a respiratory disease outbreak.

This technology can be applied to other areas of the body such as the already mentioned testicles on bulls. There are numerous applicatons for this technology, everything from footrot in cattle where temperature increases are seen around the feet to swellings under the jaw with distemper in horse.

How to apply this cost effectively and commercially is the next hurdle. Dr Schaeffer and his co-researchers have already set up cameras by watering bowls, which limit access to one animal at a time. This fall they are setting up one camera at a processing barn where cattle will actually be scanned before the chute so temperature will already be known when they are processed.

Any preventive treatment can be given at that time in the event of an increase in orbital temperature. This will also give researchers an idea of the normal orbital temperature of cattle after transport, stress and being run through an auction market. They have already documented that stress can increase orbital temperature rather quickly but whether this increase persists for days is another question.

Another method being tried is a hand-held camera to quickly take temperatures at large cattle shows. These purebred cattle are very valuable so monitoring and treating ahead of time could prevent damaged lungs if pneumonia, for example, is picked up too late.

The camera was set up at last year s Farmfair International in Edmonton. They were able to read some of the cattle and a couple of head that were predicted to become sick did in fact succumb later during the show.

It bears repeating. This would be much quicker than rectal thermometers and the cattle do not even need to be touched or restrained.

Purebred cattle are a great group to practise on as they are quiet and halter broken so focusing on the eyes was straightforward. The camera can be a few feet away making it even more user-friendly for more fractious animals like bison and game-farmed or zoo animals.

Other applications are monitoring an entire barn for temperatures in poultry or swine to identify upcoming disease outbreaks. This is where herd or flock treatments will be used.

As you can see infrared thermography could have a large number of practical applications, be cost effective, and very minimal in terms of the labour requirement other than setting it up.

In consultation with your veterinarian you could put appropriate treatment measures in place that kick into action wherever high temperatures are noted, up to four days before any clinical signs appear. This is the most significant point with this leading edge technology.


About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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