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Improving veterinary medicine, one gadget at a time

Gilda V. Bryant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 October 2017
Lachlan Strohfeldt, DVM from Bell Veterinary Services

Beef cattle producers and their veterinarians are taking advantage of the current expanding information age.

From agribusiness and cattle health apps to sharing real-time data with smartphones and tablets, veterinarians are blazing new trails with innovative electronics that improve herd health.

Many veterinarians use smartphones, digital x-rays, texting and emails to communicate with their clients. Shan Hullman, DVM, who practices veterinary medicine in Pratt, Kansas, tends to communicate by text, cellphone calls and emails.

If questions arise about feed tag information, the client emails a photo of the feed tag and receives a quick answer. Hullman also sends detailed daily A.I. protocols to producers when he cannot be at the ranch.

“We use pictures, texting and email, whatever the client prefers,” Hullman reports. “We do some nutrition work, and we’ll send feed results via email or on the phone.”

Hullman feels herd health is improved because he easily communicates with producers. Another bonus is the rapid test results available to both veterinarian and producer. For instance, Hullman utilizes smartphone and tablet technology when he uses the Pregnancy Analytics App. He and his clients share and discuss data, producing better management and health decisions.

“[Technology] is bound to help both producers and veterinarians,” Hullman explains. “You have to accept the fact we’re probably not going back to the days of paper. Most of the younger veterinary generation understands this.

In order to be progressive and help your client, you have to use some form of electronics, whether it’s data collection or electronic gadgets. They help communicate with your clients but also help expedite some of the potential data analysis that can help them out.”

Mobile apps

Bob Larson, DVM, with the college of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, has designed two apps for veterinarians available for Apple and Android devices. The Pregnancy Analytics App utilizes information collected chuteside when checking for pregnancies.

The VFD Calculator Mobile app

This app quickly turns preg-check data into easily read charts and tables to help explain a lower-than-expected breeding rate. It also identifies additional efficiency factors when pregnancy rates are satisfactory.

The VFD Calculator Mobile app assists veterinarians who write a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for their clients. Although several apps are available from feed additive and antibiotic companies, this program is specifically designed for beef producers and their veterinarians.

“It provides structure to writing the VFD,” Larson explains. “It only allows legal combinations and legal dosages, which helps veterinarians who want to stay correct with their VFD writing. [It’s a] source that covers all the different companies’ drugs that are available and labeled for use as a VFD drug.”

Smartphone and tablet apps provide information management and often tackle different roles. They provide easily obtainable information, allowing the veterinarian and the cattle producer to locate written documents or other information in the field.

Plus, they are a terrific platform for expedient on-site data entry and record-keeping. Information can be evaluated in an efficient way, enabling animal caregivers to make critical decisions in real time. Technology also facilitates improved communication between producers and veterinarians.

“Apps have the potential to greatly increase the speed and accuracy of data entry in an electronic format,” Larson adds. “That allows us to store information in a way not likely to get lost or damaged. It allows us to retrieve it wherever we are, to move it around, email it to a client or send it to another veterinarian for a consultation.”

Electronic stethoscope

Another ingenious tool is the Whisper Veterinary Stethoscope. This electronic stethoscope records and analyzes lung sounds, then classifies them in a lung score ranging from 1 to 5. A score of 1 is normal, while scores between 2 and 5 indicate graduating levels of the severity of acute pneumonia or bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

All scores are immediately sent to a chuteside computer.

Tom Noffsinger, DVM, says the Whisper Stethoscope is valuable as a diagnostic tool for prudent antibiotic use. Although this device is used primarily in feedyards, it is designed to be used on any type of cattle, including those in backgrounding yards and cow-calf operations.

“We design our treatment protocols based on those lung scores,” Noffsinger reports. “Typically, we might have a treatment protocol with specific antibiotics for specific lung scores. We use those case definition treatment responses to help fortify, monitor or change BRD treatment protocol.”

The benefits of using this specialized stethoscope include improved case definitions on cattle brought to the feedyard hospital. Both veterinarians and caregivers can more accurately determine the severity of the disease. More importantly, it allows feedlot personnel to manage home pens better.

For instance, if most of the pulls have the more severe lung score of 4 or 5, that is a good indication caregivers need to reassess the animals.

Digital necropsy

Another service that enhances diagnostic accuracy and timely intervention is digital necropsy services, available for feedyard operations. Feedlot Health Management Services provides digital necropsy diagnoses to subscribers in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Breck Hunsaker, DVM, Ph.D., managing director of FHMS-USA, says his goal is to have the most accurate mortality data in the system based on necropsies done for producers. When there is a death, trained animal health workers take six to 12 digital photos of the dissected carcass based on a flowchart developed by Feedlot Health.

The images, along with computerized individual animal case histories, are then uploaded to the cloud-based Feedlot Health postmortem website. Trained Feedlot Health veterinarians review each case to determine a diagnosis. The company organizes the individual necropsy diagnoses into several syndromic categories, which allows for appropriate and real-time use of the date to drive monitoring and intervention activities.

“It is important to recognize this [process] is standardized,” Hunsaker explains. “We spend time in regularly scheduled sessions where all members of our veterinary team make diagnoses on pre-determined training cases, then compare and discuss the diagnoses, so all of us doing this on a regular basis are consistently making the same diagnosis for any given case.”

Benefits of digital necropsies include receiving an accurate diagnosis in 24 hours or less. Hunsaker says this system takes the assumption out of the assessment, placing responsibility for accurate diagnoses on the veterinarians instead of feedlot personnel.

When a customer has questions about specific causes of mortality, Feedlot Health veterinarians can review the pertinent images with feedyard customers and discuss specifically any death loss that has occurred.

What’s next?

Future technologies being developed include the Remote Early Disease Identification (REDI) System from Precision Animal Solutions. This approach utilizes specialized eartags that continuously track locations and movements of feedlot animals.

Designed to indicate whether an animal is healthy or becoming ill based on its activity, studies suggest the REDI System identifies cattle with BRD a day earlier than pen riders.

Brad White, DVM, who developed this system along with his partners, is convinced people want to improve how they manage and identify sick animals. White is working to make sure the REDI System hardware works reliably in the feedyard environment.

“There are a lot of challenges in managing health in the feedyard setting,” White explains. “We want to add things which make the process easier and more efficient. We have to evaluate each of these on the benefit they can provide in that system.”

To stay current on new digital developments, cattle producers and veterinarians can also stay in touch with progressive extension service leaders and universities with strong beef cattle research departments. Keep an eye out for innovative ranching apps and get ready to blaze a new trail.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Lachlan Strohfeldt, DVM, from Bell Veterinary Services, uses a Whisper Veterinary Stethoscope to check cattle for BRD. Photo provided by Tom Noffsinger, DVM. 

PHOTO 2: The VFD Calculator Mobile app assists veterinarians who write a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for their clients. Courtesy images.

Gilda V. Bryant is a freelancer based in Amarillo, Texas. Email Gilda V. Bryant.

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