Can infrared thermograms be used to diagnose mastitis in pre-partum dairy heifers?

In early lactation, intramammary infections (IMI) not only impact milk production, but also herd longevity. Furthermore, IMIs are associated with higher incidents of sub-clinical and clinical mastitis. One of the problems is that it is difficult to determine when infection occurs, which can make it difficult for dairy farmers to know when to take action. Determining when infection occurs can be invasive and the procedures sometimes actually increase the risk of infection. In the search for new detection methods, a team of researchers out of the University of Glasgow in Scotland conducted a study to determine whether or not infrared thermography could be used as an early detection system for abnormal udder health. University of Glasgow clinician and lead researcher Patrícia Simões shared the team’s preliminary results at this year’s World Buiatrics Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

Nowadays with the increased size of dairy herds, Simões says that the use of off-site heifer rearing units is more common. “Those animals are the future producers of the farm,” said Simões in a recent interview. “It is important that they start the lactation with the best udder health possible. However, when they return to the main units their udder health status is often unknown.”

Most methods for detecting abnormal udder health available are invasive and risky, and many farmers prefer not to screen pre-calving, explained Simões. “That led us to think that an alternative non-invasive, non-contact and non-stressful option would be ideal, especially if it could be used to early detect udder problems and provide useful information for herd health management.”

Aware of studies using infrared thermography in human medicine, as well as in veterinary medicine, Simões and the Glasgow team decided to study its