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Small family businesses become market leaders in hoof health

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Small family businesses become market leaders in hoof health

06 September 2022

An innovative pioneering project in the field of hoof health has raised nearly £250,000 in innovation funding.

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Hoofcount is a 10-year-old family business, focused on how to keep cows’ hooves clean and healthy. Their project aims to use vision to develop a claudication monitoring system for early detection. It has won funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), part of Defra’s Farming Innovation programme, for feasibility studies that combine innovation, research and collaboration with farmers and farmers.

Hoof health is a pervasive problem in agriculture, especially in the dairy industry, as it is one of the main factors leading to poor milk production. Dairy cows are prone to a range of hoof problems including digital dermatitis, sole ulcers, white line disease and enlarged hooves. These changes often show a visual change in the underside and posterior aspect of the hoof. These problems can initially develop without the animal showing visual signs in its gait.

John Hardman, a software engineer at Hoofcount explained:

“Lameness is a major issue in dairy herds, with conservative estimates that 25% of dairy cows suffer from lameness and each lame cow costs more than £300 in lost production and treatment. Hoofcount Foot Basin is trusted and recommended by farmers, vets and hooofers and is internationally recommended because they testify Continuous reduction in limp on farms with Hoofcount Automatic Footbath.”

Detecting and treating these issues at an early stage is beneficial to the animal in maintaining the health of the hooves and preventing severe lameness which leads to reduced production, increased veterinary costs, reduced animal welfare, increased carbon footprint, and many other issues. Developing a system that can visualize these changes daily and catch any potential problems early would be of great benefit to the national herd. Using computer vision and machine learning is Hofkount’s preferred method for monitoring and detecting these issues.

“Collaboration with farmers is key to Hoofcount’s continued innovation and reputation for pioneering trusted footbaths for flock hooves health. Agri-EPI Center has strengthened our collaboration, with the introduction of the Center for Machine Vision (CMV) at the University of the West of England Bristol and the successful application of innovative financing in the UK (IUK). CMV has a proven track record of successful computer vision in agriculture. Agri-EPI has played an instrumental role in implementing project financing and continues to support project organization with its network of research farms.”

“As with automatic footbaths, we know we will never completely eliminate digital dermatitis and hoof health issues, but we want to do everything we can to minimize their effects and reduce their spread.”

Duncan Forbes, Head of Dairy at Agri-EPI Center said:

“This is a great example of the kind of hands-on collaboration we seek to create, bringing together innovative companies like Hoofcount with leading research experts like the team at CMV at UWE Bristol. Early detection of lameness is vital to meeting the challenge of achieving a significant reduction in the prevalence of lameness in dairy herds.” UK milk producers will very much welcome the benefits to the welfare of cows and the lower costs that this emerging technology solution will provide.”