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Different method in estrus detection – Dogs finding cows in estrus from jars and barns


Ajankohtaista > Different method in estrus detection – Dogs finding cows in estrus from jars and barns

Dairy production in Finland

In Finland structure of farming has been changing since the 20th century. More than 25 200 dairy farms have close down in the twenty-two years Finland has been part of European Union and in the last year the number has decreased with 400 farms. In 2018 less than 6 300 farms were producing milk as their main production line. Due to the change larger commercial dairy farms are coming more common and milk production stays at the same level despite the decreasing number of farms producing.

Dairy production is one of the main animal husbandry lines. We have approximately total of 262 300 dairy cows, main breeds being Ayrshire and Holstein. Slowly but surely free-stall cow barns are becoming more common than tie-stall barns and growing herd size obligates farmers to become even more exact with the estrus detection. Estrus detection is one of the main work tasks in dairy farms and crucial part of successful cow reproduction. Failure to detect estrus causes additional expenses to the farmer. On average one missed insemination costs 2-2,5 euros per day, consequently one estrus cycle altogether 42-52 euros.

!!! KUVA, kuvat täältä: https://www.emovet.fi/ajankohtaista/different-method-in-estrus-detection-dogs-finding-cows-in-estrus-from-jars-and-barns/, kuvateksti: During the training session in barn, cows were placed in stalls so dogs could work without additional stress from moving cows and sniffing would be easier. !!!

Along with traditional visual estrus detection there are other heat detection strategies being used on farms such as activity monitors placed on cows’ neck collar or leg bands. This gives detection other source of reliability because many factors affect just visual estrus detection, although these devices have also accuracy differences. More experienced observer and used time per detection have impact on the detection rates and cows in estrus being spotted.

Using dogs to detect estrous cows is fairly new way to work in Finland. In 2013 was the first pilot course to see if this method would be worth of a try. Since then there have been nine courses with participation of 59 dogs with their owners. Not nearly all of these dogs is used in heat detection in farms, but some have been successfully trained to do so. Estrus detection dogs are especially useful when cows don’t exhibit special estrous behaviour from which we would normally determine estrus. With or without outward demeanor dogs can smell estrous individuals.

From over 350 dog breeds some have better qualities for detection work than others. Deviant from different working dog groups, estrus detection dogs can be various breeds. Physically bigger dogs have bigger olfactory organs which means they tend to have preferable requirements for odour discrimination and identification. Particularly breeds that have been refined for odour recognition, like bloodhound, have had better specificity than other breeds. Nevertheless all canines have endogenous necessity to observe surroundings by sniffing.

A lot of smell from scratch

It has been studied that smell specific for estrus is surfaced gradually three days before estrus, is at its highest point during estrus and disappears fast within one day after. Dogs can detect estrous cows from milk, saliva, blood, vaginal fluids and urine. They smell specific odors in such a little traces of matter that we can’t even begin to compete. Canine olfactory is over forty times better than humans. Because of this incredible capability it is crucial to have correct odour samples to work with otherwise we can’t be sure what we are teaching them. Scent samples are collected from cows at the time of artificial insemination and frozen until used. They are used in training only if the cow conceived from the insemination.

!!! KUVA, kuvateksti: Bordercollie sniffing samples from the training platform. !!!

Training starts with some insignificant smell for the dogs, like tea, because before teaching them the target scent, they have to learn how the training methods work. Dogs are rewarded for sniffing the tea with treats and a clicker sound helps them to connect the two together. So after a while dogs start to spontaneously search for rewarded odour in the hope for a treat.

As the training continues, some other scents are added, such as coffee, bread, bovine hair, silage or milk, for distraction and the dogs have to learn to discriminate target scent amongst them. This prepares dogs for the many smells of their future working environment in the barn. Eventually the target scent will also be changed from tea to estrus samples.

Training platform and scent detection board are specifically used to decrease trainers’ impact in the detection task. Otherwise instead of smelling the samples dogs could decide the right placement of the correct sample from humans unintended small clues and behaviour as in Clever Hans Effect. Training platform is a device which has seven jars with perforated lids containing some odour samples. Five of these jars are simultaneously visible for the dog and the trainer can change order of the jars with the handle attached to the movable sledge. Handle is directly opposite the correct sample jar; this way trainer is able to certainly reward dog from the correct indication. Scent detection board has three jars in long stand and the dogs walk alongside looking for the right odour. Movement included in the detection task is imitation from walking and sniffing in barn.

!!! KUVA, kuvateksti: Many breeds are suitable for estrus detection work. Here working in the scent detection board is Owczarek Podhalanski, a livestock guardian dog. !!!

99 possible problems

After laboratory training it is time to move to the barn with actual source of odour, cows. Comparing to the training with the samples, barn is a much higher level of difficulty for detection work. Many different smells, air currents, moving cows, noises and machinery make barn environment challenging.

In the indoor training environment dogs learn quite quickly what they are supposed to do and what behaviour ends in something pleasant for them, such as treat. When changing training location to the barn, almost everyone experience some challenges. It is individual how long it takes dogs to connect training samples into cows and realize the same distinctive similarities in smell. They are somewhat unused to the situation, even if they had been in the barn before. A beforehand learnt route in the barn will make it easier for the dogs to shift in detection work and along with familiarization to the route, dogs get used to cows and vice versa. When the route for estrus detection work is familiar, dogs can concentrate in sniffing instead of new surroundings.

!!! KUVA, kuvateksti: Good familiarization to the working environment makes estrus detection a lot easier in the future, both dog and cows are calm in each other presence. !!!

Writer Veera Timonen, Student in Savonia School of Applied Sciences


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Training platform: https://youtu.be/MB0P2s4xOvQ

Scent detection board: https://youtu.be/Jqen-1SuSMM