Improving health of new-born calves

11 June 2018

Gemma Lowe web
Gemma Lowe, winner of the 2018 Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship.

This year’s National Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship winner is Waikato University doctoral student Gemma Lowe.

Gemma receives $22,000 to assist her research into the use of infrared thermography (IRT) for the early disease detection of neonatal calf diarrhoea (NCD).

She says NCD typically affects calves during their first month of life, and the major challenge with NCD is that by the time it’s diagnosed based on clinical signs, a substantial amount of damage has already occurred to an animal’s intestines, and in severe cases it’s often too late to save the affected animal.

IRT is a non-invasive method of detecting radiated heat, and so through assessing the thermal responses of different anatomical regions in the calves in response to disease, Gemma will be investigating the suitability of IRT as a non-invasive, automated method for early disease detection.

“The aim of this research is to develop an automated system which incorporates IRT to monitor animal health and welfare to enable early detection of this disease, before clinical signs are evident,” Gemma says.

“A system like this would be a huge benefit to farmers, enabling diseased animals to be isolated to prevent NCD spread, and enabling treatments to be administered sooner than is currently possible based on clinical signs.”

Along with IRT, Gemma is investigating the suitability of other physiological and behavioural responses (lying, feeding and drinking behaviours, and respiration rate) which could also be incorporated into the automated system.

Gemma is part-way through her doctoral study and says the Fieldays scholarship, founded to assist University of Waikato students to do research with a specific focus on the agricultural sector, is a great honour to receive and will be a great boost to her studies. She will put the funds towards course-related costs and conference attendance to further promote her research.

New Zealand National Fieldays Society President Peter Carr says they’re delighted to award Gemma this prestigious scholarship. “To be able to support individuals and research designed to enable early detection of an easily spread disease shows a dedication to the advancement of agriculture and the welfare of both animals and farmers battling such diseases.”

An example of IRT.

To date, as part of her study, Gemma has carried out four different trials investigating the suitability of IRT and other physiological and behavioural responses as indicators for the early detection of NCD.

“I’m currently analysing a lot of video data, collected during the trials. I’ve already published and presented two papers on my research, and will be presenting further data later this year in Canada at the 2018 Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE): Ethology for Health and Welfare.”

In 2015, Gemma joined InterAg (a Hamilton based R&D company) to complete a BSc Honours, and with the support of InterAg and her supervisors, she made the decision to undertake further postgraduate study and enrolled in a PhD. “My experiences to date have certainly cemented my desire to pursue a career in animal welfare science,” she says.

Gemma has always had a strong interest in animal welfare and this interest really took off during her Bachelor degree study at Waikato where she was fortunate enough to complete two student placements on research focussed on animal behaviour and welfare, the field she has remained in ever since.

The theme for this year’s Fieldays is ‘The Future of Farming’. Fieldays runs 13-16 June at Mystery Creek.

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