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Automate BCS scoring with new camera system

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 31 December 2014
BCS scoring with new camera system

Booth: DS93-96DeLaval

A new, 3D overhead camera system promises to automate collection of dairy cow body condition scores (BCS) and remove subjectivity of the results in the process.

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The new product from DeLaval will be available in North America in the first quarter of 2015 and was recently named one of World Ag Expo’s top new products.

“Historically, body condition scoring has been a laborious, time-consuming task. Like other uses of technology, using our body condition scoring cameras to automate a task delivers labor savings and an extremely high level of consistency in results,” says Mark Futcher, DeLaval’s North American market development manager for capital goods.

The camera may be mounted in varied locations. The company claims the camera works whether cattle are moving or standing still.

“Because it mounts at an area that cattle pass on a frequent basis, not just once a month or four times a year, the camera’s repeated and routine data collection improves the reliability of the body condition scores observed,” Futcher says.

As an animal passes under the camera, it collects an image and analyzes it using the company’s proprietary algorithms to assign a score on the traditional 5-point BCS scale to that animal. Futcher emphasizes it is not necessary to restrain or stop the animal’s movement to capture an image.

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“Cows can walk, trot or run past the technology and we’re still able to obtain extremely high results, consistently,” he says. “That’s important because the last thing we want to do as a measure of efficiency is bottleneck cow flow which would have negative impacts elsewhere.”

The pass-through images collected from the camera are temporary. After a photo is taken and a score is determined, only the score, not the image, is saved to the dairy’s herd management software permanently. The scores can then be analyzed for trends over time to determine health status or feed conversion efficiency.

Initially the camera will be available for installation in the company’s single-box robotic milking system, VMS. Later in 2015 the technology will be available for installation in other instances, such as parlor exit alleyways.

The camera must be combined with on-farm animal identification, such as RFID, to correctly associate body condition scores with individual animals. Futcher suggests some dairymen may choose to pair this technology with automatic sort gates in parlor return lanes that would be able to catch animals with undesirable scores for individual examination.

“We’ve done on-farm testing and measured those results against body condition scores from individuals with a high level of training and expertise in BCS scoring for cattle,” Futcher explains. “We’ve used those comparisons to drill-down and further define the software’s logic to best ensure its accuracy in real-time.”

The technology was developed and initially tested on Swedish Fleckvieh cattle and then adapted for use in Holsteins herds in Europe. The company is currently testing the technology with other breeds and promises the camera’s body condition analysis capabilities will be applicable to all North American milking breeds, even within blended herds, in the future.

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“We believe that for those operations that have been looking to employ body condition scoring but due to labor constraints have not yet done so, this technology will be extremely well embraced,” Futcher says. “The rubber hit the road on the merits of body conditioning scoring a long time ago. Bringing something that can automate it in an accurate and consistent manner is nothing but good.” PD

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