A computer vision approach to improving cattle digestive health by the monitoring of faecal samples

Gary Atkinson, Lyndon Smith, Melvyn Smith, Christopher Reynolds, David Humphries, Jon Moorby, Dave Leemans, Alison Kingston-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (SciVal)
85 Downloads (Pure)


The digestive health of cows is one of the primary factors that determine their well-being and productivity. Under- and over-feeding are both commonplace in the beef and dairy industry; leading to welfare issues, negative environmental impacts, and economic losses. Unfortunately, digestive health is difficult for farmers to routinely monitor in large farms due to many factors including the need to transport faecal samples to a laboratory for compositional analysis. This paper describes a novel means for monitoring digestive health via a low-cost and easy to use imaging device based on computer vision. The method involves the rapid capture of multiple visible and near-infrared images of faecal samples. A novel three-dimensional analysis algorithm is then applied to objectively score the condition of the sample based on its geometrical features. While there is no universal ground truth for comparison of results, the order of scores matched a qualitative human prediction very closely. The algorithm is also able to detect the presence of undigested fibres and corn kernels using a deep learning approach. Detection rates for corn and fibre in image regions were of the order 90%. These results indicate the potential to develop this system for on-farm, real time monitoring of the digestive health of individual animals, allowing early intervention to effectively adjust feeding strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17557
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2020


  • Algorithms
  • Animal Feed/analysis
  • Animal Husbandry/instrumentation
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Calibration
  • Cattle
  • Dairying
  • Deep Learning
  • Farms
  • Feces
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted/methods
  • Livestock
  • Software
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared


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