Using AI and Sensor Technology to Study Stress in Cattle

At Oklahoma State University, a groundbreaking research project is underway, aiming to delve into the world of cattle stress. This $1 million, four-year, multi-disciplinary effort is harnessing the power of cutting-edge artificial intelligence and sensor technologies to gain a deeper understanding of stress in cattle and its potential genetic predisposition.

The Quest for Genetic Clues

Janeen Salak-Johnson, an associate professor of animal and food sciences, had a theory: Could some cattle be genetically predisposed to conditions like dark cutter meat and heart failure? These conditions are not only detrimental to the animals but also have economic implications. Dark cutter meat, with its lack of the vibrant red color found in retail stores, cannot be sold there and is typically discounted by other food services. The research aims to shed light on the role of genetics in the development of these conditions, particularly in response to the cumulative stressors experienced by livestock animals throughout their lives.

Monitoring Stress Using Sensor Technology

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Interdisciplinary Engagement in Animal Systems program, the project employs sensor technology to analyze the stress responses of moderate-growth and high-growth cattle. Various parameters such as heart rate, body temperature, steps taken, and respiration rate are closely monitored to understand the cumulative effects of stress on these animals.

As Janeen Salak-Johnson emphasizes, these conditions don't manifest due to a single stressful event; rather, they result from a cumulative effect. The researchers aim to characterize the physiological responses of these animals based on their genetics for growth. By doing so, they hope to pinpoint critical stressors at specific stages of a cattle's life and determine whether the level of stress they experience is influenced by their genetic capacity for growth.

Preliminary Discoveries and Predictive Tools

Preliminary studies conducted by Salak-Johnson's team have already shown the influence of genetics on stress responses, especially during the weaning phase. Collaborating with veterinary consultants and large feedlot operations, the researchers are examining tissue samples from cattle affected by sudden death syndrome. They are analyzing changes in proteins and metabolites to predict the underlying causes of this condition.

To aid in this extensive research, a biomathematics tool will be employed to perform in-depth analysis of tissue samples. Moreover, artificial intelligence technology will assist in processing the substantial amount of data collected. The ultimate goal is to develop a predictive tool that can identify stress predisposition in animals.

A Holistic Approach

This research project encompasses experts from various fields, including meat science,sociology, computer science, and biosystems engineering. They plan to interview producersto gauge their willingness to adopt the predictive technology.

Janeen Salak-Johnson believes that this comprehensive approach will have a significant impact on the field of cattle research. The insights gained from this project could lead to producers implementing strategies at specific times of the year or in response to certain behavioral changes in their livestock. This research is not only about improving the welfare of cattle but also about ensuring a more sustainable and responsible approach to the industry.