New scanning technology that will add more detailed and precise udder trait formation, is being trialled by Norwegian cattle breeding organisation, Geno, for use in its breeding programme.

This advanced data will enable it to accelerate the progress made in improving functionality, health and welfare traits for Norwegian Red cattle.

A newly developed hand-held 3D camera, mounted on a sturdy pole together with a small computer, forms the scanning equipment.

“The camera is placed on the floor underneath the cow’s udder and takes images of the teats and the udder,” says Geno researcher Øyvind Nordbø, who is based at the co-operative’s main office in Hamar, in Norway.

“The operator checks the image on the computer screen and records it alongside the animal’s ID.”

The project is being carried out by Geno in collaboration with Norwegian livestock breeding organisations, Norway’s University of Life Science and Technology and the University of Auckland, with support from the Norwegian Research Council.

The initial trial, which started in September 2019 and will run until the end of April 2020, is using the new camera technology to scan around 1500 cows in Norwegian dairy herds. Technicians will also score cows visually and this data will be used, along with the scanned images in computer systems, to build up algorithms through advanced machine learning.

“We will use these results to improve the accuracy of predictions for udder traits within our breeding programs,” adds Mr Nordbø.

“The images will also be stored for future research on new traits for animal breeding. And, looking ahead, we hope to develop additional camera systems that can make high-quality 3D images of cows’ legs and bodies.

“If we succeed with this, we will be able to replace traditional visual scoring systems with a digital system based on 3D imaging techniques.”

Geno plans to use the advanced udder trait information to accelerate its progress in breeding the type of cows required by dairy farmers, both in Norway and internationally.

“Many want to breed cows with uniform udders and teat placement that are more suited to robotic milking machines,” says Mr Nordbø.

“Udder and teat characteristics are also linked to cow health, welfare and sustainability, and our improved predictions that we hope to gain from the new scanning technology should support the opportunity of making genetic improvements in these areas.”