Could thermal imaging transform livestock health management?

Scotland’s Rural College have conducted research presenting that there is huge potential for thermal imaging to be used in the early detection of cross species animal health conditions.

Thermal imaging is very common in human medicine and this type of technology could be a valuable tool in commercial livestock production according to Animal Welfare and Physiology Specialist Malcolm Mitchell.

What is thermal imaging?

Thermal imaging monitors infrared radiation and the heat detection captured by a camera is converted into a visual format, usually represented by colours ranging from red (hot) to blue (cold).

When the data is quantified, it informs the user about the condition of the animal in regard to physiological and pathological stress levels.

This time of imaging sits in the same group as other types of medical imaging including ultrasound and CT scanning.

Can it be used to detect disease?

Thermal imaging can be used to detect a range of stress factors including heat street – which is already being optimised in commercial settings.

In livestock sheds it can be used to detect hot and cold stresses and whilst in haulage vehicles, it can be used to monitor temperature during transportation.

Furthermore, Professional Mitchell says that researchers have also found that it can help with the early detection of physiological and pathological stress.

Other health conditions can be detected using the technology: subacute ruminal acidosis, mastitis, digital dermatitis and other issues which may cause localised inflammation. 

Alongside the benefits of early detection of diseases, the non-invasive nature of thermal imaging technology also provides welfare benefits. The way that the cameras can be positioned, meaning that animals do not need to be held, restrained or sedated; reducing the levels of stress all around.  

Thermal Imaging Technology for Livestock

Image sourced from Farming Weekly – © Hayley Parrott

How has thermal imaging been used?

A livestock manager, George Coles, has been using a thermal imaging camera to detect diseases in his cattle. As a result, he has been able to reduce antibiotic use across all stock he owns and nearly zero and knocked out the use of critically important antibiotics altogether – tackling most lameness with anti-inflammatories.

Mr Cole was able to use the camera to identify if you had a lame cow as you could see where the hotspots were. The hotspots were often higher up in the leg rather than the foot so he was able to treat it with anti-inflammatories, not antibiotics.


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