AI-powered tool has potential to revolutionise cow lameness detection and treatment


A new Innovate UK-funded agri-tech project with the potential to transform the detection and treatment of dairy cow lameness is underway in South West England.

The “Hoof Monitor” initiative is developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered thermal imaging tool capable of identifying lameness at its earliest stage and in cows’ individual feet, allowing speedier intervention.

The device could help improve cow welfare, reduce lameness-related economic losses and contribute to more environmentally sustainable milk production.

Current methods for monitoring lameness include mobility scoring, accelerometer-based precision technology and camera and AI-based visual gait analysis. Hoof Monitor is unique in using thermal indicators of lameness. The tool detects changes in temperature in individual legs and feet, enabling treatment before the condition visibly affects the cow. This helps reduce both the cost of treatment and production losses.

Project founder James Willcox said: “As well as having serious welfare implications, lameness costs the dairy industry £53.5 million annually, and is second only to mastitis in terms of its economic impact. Beyond the immediate welfare and economic benefits of treating lameness sooner, Hoof Monitor could contribute to a reduction in production inefficiencies and associated carbon emissions per litre of milk produced, helping to make milk production more sustainable.”

James’ firm Winson Agriculture has teamed up with Agri-EPI Centre and software company Rhyze Softworks to develop a proof-of-concept Hoof Monitor device, supported by a grant from Innovate UK.

Fitted to a cattle race to analyse cows’ legs and feet as they walk past, the prototype is currently being tested and developed with the 200-strong herd at Agri-EPI’s Southwest Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. It will later be trialled on larger commercial farms.

Agri-EPI’s Head of Dairy Robert Morrison said: “Hoof Monitor is unique in that it is using thermal imaging in lameness detection in a way that, until now, has not been an affordable option on commercial farms. This new approach enables us to detect increases in leg temperature, indicating increased blood flow – a clear sign of a problem in the cow’s foot – so that action can be taken earlier. As a robotic system working 24/7, it has the potential to make detecting and treating lameness much quicker than current methods, making its potential impact very strong.”


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