Travel the world for the best BRD diagnostic tools

When it comes to bovine respiratory disease (BRD), MLA’s latest research has taken a holistic approach, partnering with universities, research institutes and technology providers around the world to find the most effective diagnostic methods. in feedlots.

To support the current method of diagnosis which is based on clinical indicators used by riders and breeding personnel, non-visual modalities such as wearable technologies, physical tests and laboratory tests are currently being explored.

The project, led by Dr Tony Batterham of Apiam Animal Health, tested and compared these modalities in a commercial feedlot to help identify opportunities to improve detection, diagnosis and management of BRD in Australian cattle.

It could be a game-changer for the health, welfare and productivity of animals in Australian feedlots.

The conditions

Remote monitoring systems

Two commercially available remote monitoring systems were tested, both capturing data every five minutes.

  • The REDI (Remote Early Disease Identification) system, a type of tracking device, has been installed on portable collars. For each animal, the REDI system collected information on the time spent at the feeder and the waterer, the time spent in groups or isolated and the distance traveled.
    These movement, social, eating and drinking behaviors were associated with health status.

    Advantages: regular information and early detection potential; based on algorithms that could be continuously updated and improved on the basis of machine learning
    The con: The next generation of infrastructure is still under development before the algorithms are commercialized by MLA and Precision Animal Solutions.

  • A rumen reticular bolus ingested by cattle was used to measure core body temperature. Patterns and changes in core body temperature were associated with cases of BRD.

Advantages: regular information and early detection potential; based on algorithms that could be continuously updated and improved on the basis of machine learning
The inconvenients : Cost; recover technology from the animal after slaughter


Physical tests (crushing side of cattle)

An electronic stethoscope and ultrasound were also used. These two functions work the same as those used in humans.

  • The stethoscope, which transforms the sound of breathing into waveforms and ultrasounds that can be viewed on a computer, has been used to detect and assess problems.


Advantages: can be done by feedlot staff after some training
The inconvenients : incorrect in this project

  • The ultrasound presents an image to identify abnormalities in the lungs.


Advantages: can be done by feedlot staff after some training; could be deployed immediately; more profitable although still a significant investment
The inconvenients : can take a long time (around 10 to 30 minutes per animal); may present a risk to the safety of personnel working closely with livestock; Crush must be configured correctly for access, so modifications may be necessary; can only be used for confirmation, rather than detection.

Laboratory tests

Blood tests were done to test for metabolomics and haptoglobin. Deep nasal swabs were also taken to examine the microbiota. Analysis of these tests is not yet complete due to COVID-related disruptions, but the results will be added to the dataset soon.

Advantages: likely to develop health problems; can be used to support further research
The inconvenients : waiting time between sample collection and receipt of test results; can only be used for confirmation, rather than detection.

The research

A rigorous process was used to identify the livestock to be tested, with the pens being checked twice a day by livestock staff and veterinarians. Any animal identified three times as a presumptive case and exhibiting an elevated rectal temperature was tested with all diagnostic tools. Each positive case detected was associated with a control (an animal with no clinical signs and elevated temperature) which was also tested with a full set of diagnoses. All animals were fitted with the two portable devices.

The diagnostic accuracy of the different modalities was assessed on the basis of sensitivity (the ability to correctly identify livestock with the disease) and specificity (the ability to correctly identify livestock without it).

The best and the worst performers

Of the modalities that have been analyzed so far, ultrasound performed the best in terms of accuracy, detecting 10 out of 10 of each of the cases and controls.

“For overall accuracy, ultrasound was best. For practical reasons, [it] correctly diagnosed all cases. He captured all cases and correctly ruled out all checks, ”Dr Batterham said.

“Then there was the REDI system, followed by the bolus and then the stethoscope.

“Rough numbers – we saw 95% accuracy in the ultrasound, 80% in the REDI system, about 75% in the bolus, and closer to 60% in the stethoscope.”

Dr Batterham notes the additional benefits of remote monitoring systems for the early detection of subclinical cases, and the opportunities for improvement over time.

“We still have to do the analysis on the subclinical animals from the remote monitors… because what they will have as an advantage over the crush options is that you could potentially use these monitors to identify cattle that are are never observed by Staff.

“The REDI System, whenever it has diagnosed a problem, it has done so days before the human observer practically every time… which lends itself to much better treatment results.”

Where next?

With improvements to algorithms, Dr Batterham sees a lot of potential in remote monitors.

“What you could do to improve both remote monitors over time would be to repeat the experiment using ultrasound to confirm cases.

“Use the remote monitors to call in healthy and sick animals, bring them to the chute, perform validation by ultrasound and laboratory methods, then continuously feed that validation data into the model to improve the technology.

“Not only is it good for the health of the animal, the thing that’s front and center here is antimicrobial management. If you have a better diagnostic test for animals that really have BRD, you are using antibiotics. on really sick animals, ”said Dr Batterham.

“If remote monitors detect animals early, we have a much better chance of responding to treatment and recovering with antibiotics.

“It could also diagnose other conditions – for example, digestive disorders like acidosis that could be detected through eating behaviors and movement – or something like lameness.

“With these tools it is possible that you can also create an animal welfare index, there will be a set of variables that are not only consistent with animal health but animal welfare as well. You could get a dual status of health + status of well-being. ”


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