Farmer develops early warning infection system

A Canadian goat producer designed the scanning system to help detect abnormalities in udders to allow early treatment

Missed udder infections and subsequent missed treatments are costing global dairy farmers a massive $10 billion a year.

It is, however, the smaller family dairy farms that are being hit the hardest with the financial burden as udder infection detection rates in these situations can be low.

A Canadian company hopes to address the issue with a new detection system.

EIO Diagnostics has developed a new system that scans udders in the parlour, either via a mounted scanner in robotic milking systems or a hand-held device and relays the images to a screen where infections can be identified easier.

EIO claim its solution detects these infections sooner and cheaper, than any other approach on the market.

EIO uses a technique known as multispectral imaging, which detects udder abnormalities as they form.

Animals that are affected by harmful pathogens, even at somatic cell count (SCC) levels generally considered sub-clinical, can then be identified by farmers.

Being able to identify a Staphylococcus aureus infection, even when a standard SCC test is showing levels below 200,000 SCC, gives farmers an effective tool for in-creasing herd health and minimizing production losses.

The hand-held device, which is about the size and shape of a small tablet, can assess health of an udder in less than one second.

Used in bigger automated milking parlours, the mounted device identifies and monitors cows as they enter the milking stall or robot. It integrates with DeLaval VMS or Lely Astronaut robotic milkers and can also be integrated with automated feeders, leveraging existing animal identification systems.

The brains behind the detection system is Cory Spencer, who started EIO in the barns of his Happy Goat Cheese Company in British Columbia’s Cowichan Valley.

Spencer, a software developer and goat cheese maker, had experienced a mastitis problem with one of his 100 goats.

Along with neighbour Damir Wallener, a solution was brought to life this spring and summer.

Wallener, the chief executive officer of EIO, said they are receiving a lot of interest.

“From the intense interest we are receiving from actual dairy farmers, the answer has to be no, there are no similar systems on the market.

“There are automated SCC and electroconductivity devices available, but they share the problem of trying to identify udder infections by measuring something indirectly related to the actual infections.

“No other product also works with dry cows or pre-calving animals that don’t regularly pass through the milking parlour,” he said.

The EIO Diagnostics system is being tested in several commercial dairy barns on Vancouver Island, using goats and cows. The company is also preparing for its first large scale deployments, one in New Zealand and one in Wisconsin.

EIO say it prices the system on a service model rather than individual hardware sales and each system will differ on the number of scanners required.

“EIO manages all the hardware, software, updates and maintenance, for a fixed price, with no surprises. For goat dairies, the pricing is $3 per month, per goat. For cows, it is $5 per month, per cow. From the farm’s perspective, by reducing per-animal lab tests, or saving just one bulk tank from being dumped, the service pays for itself very quickly.”

Once the device visualises an udder, it takes a number of measurements from various parts of the spectrum. These are run through a complex mathematical model, generating a pass or fail signal.

“This takes less than a second,” said Wallener. “The measurements are also pushed to EIO’s software cloud, where they are combined with all the other imaging done at all the other barns.

“Over time, improved models are pushed back down to the devices, allowing every farm to learn from what is happening on every other farm.

“The system can send emails, text messages, and it can use messaging apps like Slack or update a cloud-based dashboard. Basically, any internet-dependent communication channel is either supported, or easy for us to add.”

During the next few months, EIO is working with a university dairy science program and hopes to publish results showing how well its detection matches up with actual pathogen tests, said Wallener.

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