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Ear tag units may detect sick beef cattle

Posted by Teresa Steckler - Disease

Technology can be a wonderful thing...especially when it works!  One technology is accelerometers.  They measure acceleration such as when a smartphone switches orientation from portrait to landscape, depending on how it's tilted, or a car's airbag inflates when it senses collision forces. The devices can detect the most sensitive of motions, from the number of steps taken during a morning walk to the number of jaw movements during a heifer's morning meal.

These devices are being used by some dairy producers to measure feed intake, detect heat and more importantly identify sick animals.

Researchers from University of Calgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada wanted to know if the same accelerometer technology could be implemented in beef systems. Their 13-day study, "Technical note: Accuracy of an ear tag-attached accelerometer to monitor rumination and feeding behavior in feedlot behavior," can be found in the Journal of Animal Science.

Calgary's study is one of the first to monitor use with an in-ear accelerometer unit. The system uses a proprietary algorithm to quantify ear movements, as well as time spent feeding, ruminating, resting and being active. It records those actions and relays it to an online program, which can also be downloaded as an app on a smartphone.

To test the accuracy of the ear tag-attached unit in beef steers, two human observers monitored the feeding and rumination behaviors of steers with ear tag-attached accelerometers. Their live observations were then compared with the data collected electronically by the in-ear devices.

More studies need to be conducted to validate the technology before it can be used to detect disease. Consequently, the team at Calgary also applied the ear tags in a Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) study, but since few animals actually contracted the sickness during the trial, a relation between rumination and feeding events couldn't be shown. Still, the few animals that did contract BRD showed "very distinct patterns of rumination."



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