Infra-red camera a health tool
An infra-red camera that could revolutionise early detection of animal illnesses and injuries is being developed by AgResearch and is on show at Mystery Creek.
The tool is part of experimental new technology to maximise animals' potential being displayed by New Zealand's biggest Crown Research Institute.
AgResearch scientist Dr Jim Webster said the camera was about maximising farm animals' potential by understanding their needs, thereby increasing their productivity and improving animal welfare.
While still at research stage, the technology is showing benefits in early detection of mastitis, facial eczema, lameness and other condi-tions and ailments, Webster said.
"This research has been going on for five or six years. We've looked at a variety of different uses for detecting diseases and injuries. Anything that might change an animal's pattern of heat emitted, the sensitive camera can pick up the redistribution of heat," Webster said.
"Pain causes the body to have a stress response – fight or flight – and that changes the blood flow around the body.
"It decreases the blood flow going to the periphery. We can see that if we look at the animal's eye [using the infra-red camera]. For pain, the eye is the easiest place to see it.
"For other stressors, we look at other parts of the body. We might look at the back, for instance. For lameness, we would look at the feet."
A trial at the research institute's farm at Tokanui has given early positive results for facial eczema detection. The trial finished this month and results were being analysed, Webster said.
The trial involved mounting an infra-red camera over a water trough. When the cows came in to drink, the camera took images and the animals were identified by electronic identification ear tags.
The researchers were able to pick up early signs of facial eczema before it manifested outside the body.
"The key is the technology is non-invasive. The cow doesn't see a person. Seeing a person can invoke a stress response," Webster said.
AgResearch wants to take the technology to the stage where it can become a commercial product for use on farms.
"When the research is far enough advanced, we would want a commercial company to come on board."
There is already interest in the technology's application to detect when a cow is ready to be mated – the most fertile time in its cycle.
"It's very important for a farmer to know when the best time is to inseminate the cows," Webster said.