Use of thermal imaging in dairy calves: exploring the repeatability and accuracy of measures taken from different anatomical regions

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Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science
Three experiments were undertaken to 1) quantify the repeatability and reproducibility of thermal imaging across day and operator experience and 2) assess the correlation between descriptive infrared (IR) temperature parameters from different anatomical areas and core body temperature in dairy calves under 12 wk of age. In experiment 1, a single operator captured 30 replicate images of both the left and right eyes (defined as the whole eye + 1 cm margin) and the rectal area (defined as the anus +1.5 cm margin) from each of 16 calves. In experiment 2, three operators of varying experience captured images from both the left and right eyes and the rectal area of each of 12 calves. In experiment 3, a single operator captured images of the right eye and rectal area for a period of 5 consecutive days for each of 205 calves. All images were captured between 0900 and 1300 h. Core body temperature, obtained via rectal thermometer, was recorded every day for each of the 205 calves following completion of IR image capture. Ambient temperature and relative humidity were adjusted for each thermal image prior to manual extraction of maximum, minimum, and average temperature parameters. In experiment 1, lowest error variance was found within the maximum temperature parameter and the right eye was determined as the most repeatable anatomical area, with 80.48% of the total proportion of variance attributed to the calf. Results indicated that capturing at least three replicate images would provide the precision required to identify ill-health in calves. In experiment 2, operator variance was low across anatomical areas, with values of ≤0.01°C2 for the right and left eyes and ≤0.04°C2 for the rectal area. In experiment 3, day to day variation of thermal image measurements and core body temperature were minimal across anatomical areas with values of ≤0.008°C2. Correlations ranging from 0.16 to 0.32, and from 0.31 to 0.47 were found between maximum eye and core body temperature and maximum rectal area and core body temperature, respectively. Results of the present study indicate a low level of variability and high level of repeatability within IR temperature measurements in calves under 12 wk of age, particularly within maximum temperature parameters. Providing operators of varying abilities with a basic standardized protocol is sufficient to limit between-operator variation. Further research is required to investigate whether correlation between IR and core body temperature can be improved.
Publication history: Accepted - 15 November 2018; Published - 18 November 2018.
accuracy, dairy calves, infrared thermography, repeatability, temperature assessment
Scoley, G. E., Gordon, A. W. and Morrison, S. J. (2018) ‘Use of thermal imaging in dairy calves: exploring the repeatability and accuracy of measures taken from different anatomical regions1’, Translational Animal Science. Oxford University Press (OUP), 3(1), pp. 564–576. doi: 10.1093/tas/txy126.