UD prof pioneers new generation of lameness detection in cattle
Robert Dyer’s research, both on the farm and in the laboratory, is helping to save the dairy industry billions of dollars each year.


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10:42 a.m., Oct. 4, 2010----In the United States, approximately one in five dairy cattle have a detrimental physical condition called lameness, says Robert Dyer, associate professor of large animal immunology, infectious disease and production medicine at the University of Delaware and a large animal veterinarian.

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Fortunately, Dyer and his colleagues at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) are continually updating a computerized system that aids in the early detection of lameness, in hopes of saving the dairy industry billions of dollars each year.

StepMetrix, now in its second generation, is sold by a farm equipment company called BouMatic and is being used on dairy farms in the U.S. and Europe.

First commercially available in 2005, this detection method uses a computerized system of force plates, which are installed on the ground outside the area where the cows are milked. Every time that a cow walks over the force plates on their way to milking, the plates detect the forces up and down each of the legs through electronic sensors.

The data collected from the force plates is then analyzed by the software to create a lameness index, rating each individual cow as either “sound” or “lame.” If undetected, lameness can cost farmers an average of $500 per case.

“With the first generation of the StepMetrix, we were limited to only one dimension -- the vertical forces,” Dyer said. “We were still missing 35-40 percent of lame cows and wanted to increase the efficiency and sensitivity of this technology.”

This system has gained a lot of popularity in Europe, due to concerns about animal welfare throughout the European Union. For example, three years ago the King farm in the United Kingdom installed a StepMetrix and currently has less than 1 percent lame cows in its 350 cow herd.

The new second generation of StepMetrix not only measures the forces up and down each leg, but also across and back and forth. This three dimensional method will now consider 18 different parameters in determining lameness. These improvements will also demonstrate the value of StepMetrix to U.S. dairy farmers.

“The ultimate goal of this technology is to educate dairymen on how much lameness costs them through real world data,” Dyer explained. “This concept is still the premiere technological advance in lameness detection and has set the pace for the rest of the dairy industry.”

Article by Rachael Dubinsky