Assessing alternatives to locomotion scoring for detecting Lameness in dairy cattle in Tanzania: infrared thermography

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Lameness detection is a significant challenge. Locomotion scoring (LS), the most widely used system for detecting lameness, has several limitations, including its subjective nature and the existence of multiple systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, this study aimed to evaluate whether the foot skin temperature (FST) of hind limbs, as measured using infrared thermography (IRT), could potentially be used as an alternative on Tanzanian dairy farms. Each of the three study farms were visited twice during the afternoon milking on consecutive days, with a total of 170 cows assessed. DairyNZ LS (4-point scale (0–3)) was undertaken on the first day as the cows exited the milking parlour after being milked, while on the following day, the plantar aspect of the hind limbs of the cows was thermally imaged while they were standing in the milking parlour, using a handheld T650sc forward-looking infrared camera. Mean FST was higher for cows with a locomotion score of 1 than those with a score of 0; higher for cows with a locomotion score of 2 than those with a score of 1; and higher for cows with a locomotion score of 3 than those with a score of 2, with each one-unit locomotion score increase being associated with a 0.57 ◦ C increase in mean temperature across all zones. The optimal cut-off point of 38.0 ◦ C for mean temperature across all zones was identified using a receiver operator characteristic curve. This cut-off point had a sensitivity of 73.2% and a specificity of 86.0% for distinguishing cows with a locomotion score ≥ 2 (clinical lameness). The prevalence of clinical lameness across all three farms was 33%, which meant that only 72% of cows with a mean FST across all zones ≥ 38.0 ◦ C had been identified as clinically lame using LS. This study confirmed that IRT has the potential to be used to detect lameness on Tanzanian dairy farms. However, before it can be widely used, improve- ments in accuracy, especially specificity, are needed, as are reductions in equipment (IR camera) costs.


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lameness, locomotion scoring, infrared thermography, dairy cattle, tropical country