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pigs faceFeasibility assessment of wearable technologies
for describing neonatal beef calf behaviour


Year: 2021

Ms Rachael Coon
University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Grant: £3,500


Neonatal calf diarrhoea (NCD) typically occurs within 21 days of birth and is the predominant cause of calfhood morbidity and mortality. Using wearable technologies to help producers detect calves with NCD sooner and with greater accuracy would be an invaluable tool to help improve calf welfare and health on suckler operations. With the support of the UFAW Small Project and Travel Award, I was able to travel from California to Alberta, Canada in May 2021 to assist in the completion of a pilot project on the feasibility of wearable technologies with hopes that our findings would provide the foundation for future research into early detection of NCD.

Within 24 hr of the calves being born, ten cow-calf pairs were housed in an outdoor pen with both open field and forested areas. Prior to entering the pen, all calves were fitted with a collar equipped with GPS and an accelerometer for measuring activity. The collars could also detect proximity to ear tags that were fitted on all the cows at the same time. Starting on Day 7 (Day 0 was the day animals entered the pen), focal animal sampling of calves was conducted. Observation times were randomly dispersed across days and including all hours between 0800 and 2000h. In addition to focal animal sampling, scan sampling of the pen was also conducted.

In total, 24 h of focal animal observations were conducted from Days 7 to 20. An average (±SD) of 144 (±52.4) minutes of observations were collected per collar. Accelerometer and GPS data are currently being analysed.

This information will be used to develop algorithms and GPS proximity ranges for detecting deviations in normal calf behaviour that may indicate sickness, allowing producers to respond rapidly even in rangeland conditions.