Current situation

In recent decades, livestock production in Greece has been growing rapidly, due to the growing demand for products of animal origin. This demand led to the transition from traditional to intensive farming systems with the aim of intensifying production. Sheep and goats, being one of the most important productive species in the livestock sector, contribute decisively to the economic development of the country.

The consequence of these changes is the emergence of unknown health problems or the worsening of existing ones, mainly due to the incorrect management of intensively farmed animals. One such problem is the increase in the incidence of lameness, especially in animals that remain stabled throughout the year. It is the most decisive factor of stress, often painful, which significantly degrades both the level of well-being and the reduction of milk production of sick animals in the case of untimely detection of the disease. This results in the compulsory slaughter of the animal, with serious direct and indirect economic effects on the business.

The untimely diagnosis of lameness is due to the applied detection methods, which are mainly based on the visual observation of the animal’s mobility by the producer, a method that almost excludes the detection of the problem at an early stage. The aim of the action is to initially establish in the Greek livestock data a new lameness detection system, at an early stage, based on movement parameters and the monitoring of animal nutrition, in order to avoid the financial impact due to loss of production for the livestock units.

Addressing the problem

Today the detection of lameness in sheep and goats is carried out by visual assessment of the mobility index. It is a simple five-point numerical scale, which scores with “1” the normal posture of the animal and “5” the permanent elevation of the affected limb during walking. To estimate the index, the “expert” observes the gait of each animal and, depending on the difference between the kinematic pattern and the normal state, ranks it on the corresponding numerical scale.

However, the use of this scale is a subjective method of detection, which lacks reliability, especially when the observation is made by breeders who lack specialized knowledge, with the result that most of the time the problem of lameness is underestimated and it is not detected in time, so that it can be treated immediately. This can be avoided by establishing a reliable system for measuring and grading lameness symptoms in sheep and goats.

The project implementation stages include the design of the pilot applications, the recording and study of the kinesiological pattern of three groups of animals (healthy, with lameness at an early stage and with lameness at an advanced stage) and their nutrition, parameters that affect and are affected by lameness , adapting the system and finally validating the system in a fourth group of randomly sampled animals.

After the end of the project, the system will be able to be easily applied in each unit in order to successfully identify animals with lameness and will be for the breeder a low-cost, reliable and accurate method of identifying the condition at an early stage, significantly reducing the financial impact for the production unit.