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Early recognition of bovine respiratory disease in calves using automated continuous monitoring of cough sounds

Vandermeulen, Joris, Bahr, Claudia, Johnston, Dayle, Earley, Bernadette, Tullo, Emanuela, Fontana, Ilaria, Guarino, Marcella, Exadaktylos, Vasileios, Berckmans, Daniel
Computers and electronics in agriculture 2016 v.129 pp. 15-26
algorithms, antibiotics, bovine respiratory disease, calf housing, cough, dairy calves, disease severity, early warning systems, financial economics, humans, monitoring, rearing
Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex in calves impairs health and welfare and causes severe economic losses for the Stockperson. Early recognition of BRD should lead to earlier veterinary (antibiotic/anti-inflammatory) treatment interventions thereby reducing the severity of the disease and associated costs. Coughing is one of the clinical manifestations of BRD. It is believed that by automatically and continuously monitoring the sounds within calf houses, and analysing the coughing frequency, early recognition of BRD in calves is possible. Therefore, the objective of the present study was to develop an automated calf cough monitor and examine its potential as an early warning system for BRD in artificially reared dairy calves. The coughing sounds of 62 calves were continuously recorded by a microphone over a three-month period. A sound analysis algorithm was developed to distinguish calf coughs from other sounds (e.g. mechanical sounds). During the sound recording period the health of the calves was assessed and scored periodically per week by a trained human observer. Calves presenting with BRD received antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory treatment and the dates of treatment were recorded. This treatment date reference served as a comparison for the investigation of whether an increase in coughing frequency could be related to calves developing BRD. The calf cough detection algorithm achieved 50.3% sensitivity, 99.2% specificity and 87.5% precision. Four out of five periods, where coughing frequency was observed to be increased, coincided with the development of BRD in more than one calf. This period of increased coughing frequency was always observed before the calves were treated. Therefore, the calf cough monitor has the potential to identify early onset of BRD in calves.