Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 23-6 - 31

An Automatic Lameness Detection
System for Dairy Cattle
Gourab Sen Gupta, Aaron Dalbeth, Johann Nel, and Ken Mercer

L

ameness in dairy cattle negatively effects the welfare of affected cows and is the third biggest cause of
economic loss to the dairy industry in New Zealand.
As the cost and frequency of lameness continues to increase,
profitability will further decrease unless a more effective and
efficient method of detecting cattle lameness is developed.
In this article, we outline the design of the measurement
platform which detects lameness. The walk-over-platform
(WoP) has four independent platform segments, with each
segment containing four shear beam load cells and electronic
hardware for processing. The load cell signals are processed to
determine the three basic kinematic variables associated with
lameness: force, position and duration. Based on these variables, a wide range of typical gait parameters such as stride
length, abduction, stance time, etc. were calculated. Laboratory testing of the positional and weight accuracy of a platform
segment found a maximum weight error of 0.4%, a X-position
mean error of 1.0 ± 2.2 mm and a Y-position mean error of 0.8
± 1.8 mm.
The WoP was field-tested on two farms. Approximately
9500 hooves landed on the platform from 200 cows. The dynamic weighing of the cattle on the WoP showed a mean error
of 13.7 ± 7.5 kg. Lameness was successfully detected using several parameters, namely asymmetry in weight distribution,
stride length and abduction.

Lameness in the Dairy Industry
The New Zealand dairy industry is the country's top merchandise export earner and contributed NZD 16.7 billion of export
earnings in 2018 [1]. The industry has continued to grow over
the last 30 years, with an average herd size of 431 cows per
farm in 2017/2018 season [2]. The third biggest cause of economic loss to the industry (behind mastitis and sub-fertility) is
lameness; it can cost farmers NZD 350 or more per case [3]. Of
concern is that the incidence of lameness is increasing.

Causes of Lameness
Lameness is due to trauma accompanied by secondary infection, with claw disorders accounting for approximately 90%
September 2020	

of lameness [4]. One of the main causes of lameness is white
line disease. This disease is related to the handling of cattle in
yards/races and results in abscess formation mainly in the lateral claw of the hind limb and often at the area just cranial to the
heel bulb. This occurs due to the penetration of stones into the
claw, resulting in infection of the soft corium and significant discomfort to the cow [4]. The handling of cattle has worsened in
recent years as increased farm sizes have resulted in herds having to walk farther to the milking shed every day; this increases
the wear on the cows' feet and likelihood of inflicting damage.
Another significant cause of lameness relates to the maintenance state and surface structure of yards/races. Yards are
made of concrete, which can be rough and very abrasive, resulting in damage to the hooves and high incidences of lameness.
Race surfaces which lead to the milking shed can also be very
uneven and stony, resulting in additional hoof damage and further development of lameness. Furthermore, if the stock herder
is impatient and pushes the cattle too hard, incident rates will
increase [4]. Fig. 1 shows an infected hoof of a lame cow.

Cost of Lameness
The estimated cost of a single case of lameness in New Zealand is NZD 350; this is based on treatment costs, increased
chance of culling, loss of production and reduced reproductive performance [5]. This cost however can be considerably
higher depending on the season of the year and if the lameness negatively affects mating. In a normal sized herd of 431
cows, between 41 and 62 cows would be diagnosed with
lameness per year, resulting in an annual cost to the farmer of
approximately NZD 14,350 to 21,700. This demonstrates the
importance of individually monitoring each cow so that those
displaying mild lameness can be quickly detected and treated
before the lameness becomes more severe and the associated
cost of lameness increases. The direct financial implications
highlight the significance of lameness and the need for an early
detection system to be developed.
Early identification and prevention of lameness would
not only save farmers money but would also improve animal health and performance for the rest of the season. The

IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine	31
1094-6969/20/$25.00©2020IEEE



Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 23-6

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