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The Applicability of Thermography During the Breeding Season and Early Nursing in Farmed Fallow Deer

Authors:
  • Witold Stefanski Institute of Parasitology Polish Academy of Sciences

Abstract and Figures

To get to know the health condition of cer-vids often requires the use of other diagnostic methods than those used in other farm animals. The aim of this study was to determine the applicability of thermal imaging in different stages of the breeding season and during early nursing in farmed fallow deer does and fawns. The study was carried out at a cervids farm in northeastern Poland, where around 200 fallow deer are kept. A ThermoPro TP8 thermographic camera was used. The results of the study demonstrated that thermal imaging supports oestrus detection, but with significant limitations. Thermal imaging does not support early pregnancy detection in fallow deer. Temperature differentials between the examined body parts are reliable indicators of pregnancy only in the last trimester when foetal development is most rapid. Thermal imaging is a potentially useful non-invasive method for studying lactation in cervids, and can be applied to monitor lactation stages in farmed cervids, but only those that are tamed. This method is also potentially useful for localis-ing hiding fawns in farms, but only when the observations are carried out at a distance of up to 20 m.
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Vol. 16, No.2, 2018 • Intern J Appl Res Vet Med.
186
KEY WORDS: breeding season,
Dama dama, deer farming, fallow deer,
thermogram
ABSTRACT
To get to know the health condition of cer-
vids often requires the use of other diagnos-
tic methods than those used in other farm
animals. The aim of this study was to deter-
mine the applicability of thermal imaging in
different stages of the breeding season and
during early nursing in farmed fallow deer
does and fawns. The study was carried out
at a cervids farm in north-eastern Poland,
where around 200 fallow deer are kept. A
ThermoPro TP8 thermographic camera was
used.
The results of the study demonstrated
that thermal imaging supports oestrus
detection, but with signicant limitations.
Thermal imaging does not support early
pregnancy detection in fallow deer. Tem-
perature differentials between the examined
body parts are reliable indicators of preg-
nancy only in the last trimester when foetal
development is most rapid. Thermal imaging
is a potentially useful non-invasive method
for studying lactation in cervids, and can be
applied to monitor lactation stages in farmed
cervids, but only those that are tamed. This
method is also potentially useful for localis-
ing hiding fawns in farms, but only when the
observations are carried out at a distance of
up to 20 m.
INTRODUCTION
In farmed and wild animals, thermal imag-
ing is used to diagnose disorders of locomo-
tive organs16,17, in particular lameness in
horses10, 43 and dairy cattle1, 33, to detect early
signs of viral and systemic infections8, 9, 36, 37,
44 in order to assess animal welfare levels22,
40, 41, analyse the processes by which animals
regulate their body temperature21, 23, 24, 26, 39,
45, observe animal behavior18, 25, 32, 35, inves-
tigate animal responses to various treatment
regimes6, and evaluate animals raised for
meat.30 In cervids, thermal imaging meth-
ods are also applied to observe changes in
antler temperature during growth.3,5
The Applicability of Thermography During
the Breeding Season and Early Nursing in
Farmed Fallow Deer
Justyna Cilulko-Dołęga1
Paweł Janiszewski1*
Marek Bogdaszewski2
1University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn,
Department of Fur-Bearing Animal Breeding and Game Management,
Oczapowskiego 5, 10-718 Olsztyn, Poland,
2Institute of Parasitology of the Polish Academy of Sciences,
Research Station in Kosewo Górne, 11-700 Mrągowo, Poland,
kosewopan@kosewopan.pl
*corresponding author: janisz@uwm.edu.pl
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018. 187
Thermal imaging systems are also used
in research studies investigating the repro-
duction of farmed and wild animals. The
physiological processes linked with oestrus,
pregnancy, spermatogenesis, and ejaculation
are energy consuming, and they require the
supply of additional nutrients and oxygen
via the bloodstream. The areas of the body
where these processes are intensied emit
heat. Thermal imaging devices measure
differences in temperature between body
organs, and can be used to control reproduc-
tive processes in farm animals.27
The aim of this study was to determine
the applicability of thermal imaging in
different stages of the breeding season and
during early nursing in farmed fallow deer
does and fawns.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The study was carried out in a cervid
farm of the Institute of Parasitology of the
Polish Academy of Sciences in Kosewo
Górne (north-eastern Poland; N: 53°48’; E:
21°23’).
The ThermoPro TP8 thermographic
camera, a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR)
device with an uncooled FPA microbo-
lometer array, 384x288 pixels, 35 µm, was
used. The camera had thermal sensitivity of
0.08°C to 30°C and measurement accuracy
of 1±°C or ±1%. Emissivity was set at
ε=0.98, which corresponds to
the emissivity of bare skin or
skin covered with dry fur.2, 25
Images were also acquired with
the use of the Canon EOS 550D
digital camera for comparison
with thermal images, which
is a recommended procedure
in thermal imaging.27 Thermal
images were analysed in the
Guide IR Analyser programme
(v. 2010-04-05).
The results were used to
determine the applicability of
thermal imaging for detecting
oestrus and pregnancy, moni-
toring lactation and localising
hidden fawns.
Oestrus Detection
The applicability of thermal imaging
for oestrus detection was evaluated on 8
November, 2011, and 17 November, 2011,
in an animal handling facility where does
were immobilised in a crush. Thermographic
measurements were performed from a dis-
tance of around 1 m from the rump. The tail
was held up during the procedure to expose
reproductive organs. The average tempera-
ture in the area of the reproductive organs
(R) (excluding the anus) and the average
temperature on the surface of the hair coat
on the rump (Z) as the control value were
measured. Measurements were performed
by ellipse tting.3, 28 Maximum and mini-
mum temperatures were indicated in each
thermogram. An exemplary thermogram is
presented in Figure 1.
Pregnancy Detection
Thermograms for pregnancy detection were
acquired regularly between 25 January and
13 July 2012, in weekly intervals on average
(a total of 14 diagnostic days). Thermal im-
ages were acquired before sunrise and after
sunset or during the day on cloudy days,
from a distance of around 1.5 m.
A total of 133 thermograms acquired
on 14 diagnostic days and depicting the
right ank of pregnant females were used
in analysis. The underbelly area (B) and
Figure 1. Thermogram of a doe’s rump acquired on 8
November 2011 (Min:T – minimum temperature, Max:T –
maximum temperature; Ravg – average temperature of the
marked area; Zavg – average temperature of the control
area on the rump).
Vol. 16, No.2, 2018 • Intern J Appl Res Vet Med.
188
the rump control area (Z) were marked in
thermograms by ellipse tting. The aver-
age temperature in the analysed areas was
measured (Fig. 2) using the earlier meth-
ods.3, 28 Differences in the average tempera-
tures of the underbelly and the rump from
three measurements were calculated. The
observed changes in the average underbelly
and rump temperatures were analysed in
different stages of pregnancy (different ther-
mogram dates) in view of average ambient
temperature (measured by the thermographic
camera) on the day of the measurement.3
Lactation Control
Lactation was monitored with
the use of thermograms ac-
quired between 15 May and 15
August 2012 in weekly intervals
(a total of 14 diagnostic days).
Thermograms of the rump area
were acquired before sunrise
or in the evening, when the tail
was raised to expose the repro-
ductive organs. Thermographic
measurements were performed
from a distance of 0.5-1.0 m.
A total of 153 thermograms
of the rump area acquired on
14 diagnostic days were used in
analysis. The average tem-
perature of the udder area (U)
and the rump control area (Z)
was measured (Fig. 3). Differences in the
average udder and rump temperatures from
three measurements were averaged, and the
results were analysed in view of the day of
measurement (lactation stage) and average
ambient temperature registered by the cam-
era on the day of the measurement.
Localisation of Hidden Fawns
Hidden fawns were localised with a ther-
mographic camera between 15 June and 15
August 2012, and in June 2013 and June
2014. Thermograms were acquired before
sunrise, in the evening or during the day on
cloudy days. Farm enclosures were scanned
in search of hidden fawns from a distance
of several to several dozen meters from
potential hiding sites (Fig. 4). The identied
warm spots were veried to determine the
presence of fawns in the examined locations.
Images were also acquired with the Canon
EOS 550D digital camera, and observa-
tions were performed with the use of 10x50
binoculars. The identied fawns were then
Figure 2. Thermogram of a doe’s right ank, acquired on
23 May 2012 (B avg – average temperature of the marked
underbelly area; Z avg – average temperature of the
marked rump area; Min:T – minimum temperature; Max:T
– maximum temperature).
Figure 3. Thermogram of the rump area
acquired on 8 August 2012 (W – average
temperature of the udder area; Z – average
temperature of the rump area; Min: T
minimum temperature; Max: T – maximum
temperature).
Figure 4. Thermogram of a farm enclosure,
acquired on 29 June 2012, depicting a poten-
tial fawn hiding site (K) (K: T – temperature
in a potential hiding site: Min: T – minimum
temperature; Max: T – maximum temperature).
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018. 189
localised with a thermographic camera.
Temperature was measured in locations
identied as potential hiding sites. The ef-
fectiveness of thermal images was compared
with digital images to determine whether
the warm spots identied in thermal images
were fawns or heated objects, such as stones
or soil.
Statistical Analysis
Thermographic data were compiled in
spreadsheet tables and analysed by calculat-
ing temperature differentials between repro-
ductive organs and the control area, and by
comparing the results with average ambient
temperature registered by the thermographic
camera on the respective measurement days.
The results were analysed statistically in the
Statistica v. 10 programme by computing a
matrix of correlations between temperatures
measured in the underbelly area and the
control area vs. ambient temperature
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Oestrus Detection
Thermograms of the reproductive organs
of fallow deer does were acquired on 8
November and 17 November 2011. The dif-
ference between the average temperatures in
the area of the reproductive organs (R1, R2)
and the control area on the rump (Z1, Z2)
was greater during the second measurement
by 2.4°C on average (Table 1).
In does, an increase in the temperature
of the reproductive organs could point to
oestrus or its onset.15, 17, 19, 38, 42 In all females,
the difference between the temperature of
the reproductive organs and the control area
was greater during the second measure-
ment, which could be partially attributed to
lower ambient temperature (by 1.3°C) on
that day. The above contributed to greater
differences in the temperature of bare skin,
in particular in bodily crevices, less exposed
areas (underbelly, groin, area under the tail)
and fur-covered skin in exposed areas (back,
rump, anks, limbs).3
The results indicate that thermal imaging
supports oestrus detection in cervids, but
with certain limitations. For oestrus to be
effectively detected in farmed fallow deer,
thermal images of the reproductive organs
have to be acquired from a small distance.
Therefore, the degree of animal tameness
is a very important consideration. Ther-
mographic measurements should be per-
formed daily over a period of several days
to produce the most reliable results. For this
reason, thermal imaging can be particularly
useful in small animal farms and zoos where
the animals are relatively tame. The method
proposed in this study could also be applied
to diagnose hidden oestrus and fertility
problems in farmed does. In large cervid
farms where animals are relatively untamed,
thermographic detection of oestrus could be
more difcult for practical reasons. In such
locations, the discussed technique requires
herding, capturing and immobilization,
which could decrease the animals’ welfare
and require greater effort on behalf of farm
personnel.
Doe
8 November 2011 17 November2011 Difference
2-1
R1 Z1 Difference1
R-Z
Ambient R2 Z2 Difference
R-Z
Ambient
2 35.8 11.5 24.3 10 36.7 9.8 26.9 9.2 2.6
25A 36.6 11.1 25.5 10.3 36.3 10 26.3 9.1 0.8
27A 37 13.2 23.8 10.2 38 10.2 27.8 9 4
198 35.5 9.6 25.9 10.1 37 8.9 28.1 9.1 2.2
287 36.7 10.3 26.4 10.5 38.2 x8.7 29.5 9.3 3.1
785 36.7 10.3 26.4 11.7 37.8 9.8 28 9.1 1.6
Average - - - 10.5 - - - 9.2 2.4
Table 1. Temperature measurements performed during oestrus [°C]
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190
Thermal imaging is a non-invasive
diagnostic method which does not compro-
mise animal welfare, therefore, it should be
researched in greater detail. Similar conclu-
sions were formulated by authors who used
thermal imaging devices to detect oestrus
in cattle,15, 19, 42 pigs,38 Asian elephants, and
black rhinoceroses.17
Pregnancy Detection
Thermal images of the anks of pregnant
and postpartum does were used to calculate
changes in temperature between the under-
belly area (B) and the control area on the
rump (Z) (Table 2). Between 25 January and
9 May, temperature differentials between the
above areas continued to increase steadily
and ranged from -1.4°C to 6.6°C. The aver-
age ambient temperature registered by the
thermographic camera in the above period
ranged from 7°C to 19°C. Temperature
differentials between the analysed areas
were greatest from 9 to 23 May, ranging
from 3.6°C to 9.2°C. The highest values
were noted on 15 May in does No. 2 and
neo3 605, and on 22 May in does No. 3 and
neo11 202. During that period, the average
ambient temperature ranged from 19°C to
20.5°C. The greatest decrease in temperature
differentials between the examined areas
was observed on 3 June, and it ranged from
-2.2°C in doe No. 3 to 3.9°C in doe No. 2.
The average ambient temperature on the
above date was 18.5°C. Between 6 and 22
June, the temperature differentials between
the underbelly and the rump ranged from
-2°C to 5.6°C. In successive weeks, the ob-
served differences in temperature were less
pronounced, ranging from 0.9°C to 3.6°C.
The average ambient temperature between
6 June and 13 July was 15.3°C to 22.3°C.
The measurements performed on 15 June
revealed that doe No. 3 had recently given
birth. The exact parturition dates of the
remaining does could not be established, but
it can be assumed that all pregnant does had
already given birth to fawns by 22 June.
The observed differences in the exam-
ined areas of the body were not correlated
with the average ambient temperature. Simi-
lar conclusions were derived from an analy-
sis of the correlation matrix. Our ndings
differ from the earlier results in whose study,
the temperature differentials between the
ank and the control area in mares increased
when ambient temperature was lower.3 It
Date of
measurement
Temperature differences (B-Z) in does Average
ambient T
2 3 neo 3605 neo 11202
25 January -1.4 N/A N/A N/A 9.9
20 March -0.4 -1.2 -1 -1.2 11.2
4 April 0.8 0.2 0.1 1.1 7.0
26 April 1.4 3.4 1.7 1.5 17.0
9 May 6.6 4.0 3.6 4.7 19.0
15 May 9.2 2.9 7.6 6.2 14.5
23 May 7.4 9.1 7.7 9.1 20.5
3 June 3.9 -2.2 3.5 1.8 18.2
6 June 3.4 1.5 2.5 2.4 15.3
15 June 3.4 -2.0 6.0 5.6 20.9
22 June 2.6 3.1 3.6 2.5 20.7
4 July 0.9 2.3 2.9 2.4 22.3
13 July N/A 2.8 2.3 2.6 20.1
Table 2. Average differences in temperature (T) between the underbelly (B) and the control
area (Z) in pregnant fallow deer does [°C].
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018. 191
should also be noted that the cited authors
conducted measurements only in the last
stage of pregnancy in mares, whereas the
results presented in our study cover nearly
the entire period of pregnancy in fallow deer
does. The greatest differences in temperature
between the analysed areas were noted on
15 and 23 May, and they could be linked
to rapid foetal development. It should
be stressed that the observed increase in
temperature differentials was not correlated
with a decrease in ambient temperature.
On 9 May, when temperature differentials
between the examined areas were lower in
all does, ambient temperature was 1.5°C
lower than on 23 May when the difference
in temperature between the underbelly and
the rump exceeded 7°C.
The results indicate that temperature
differentials between the examined body
areas were greatest in the last trimester of
pregnancy (April to June) when foetal devel-
opment is most rapid (Asher 2007, Mulley
2007). After 22 June, the noted differences
in temperature were small in all does, which
could suggest that all pregnant females had
given birth to fawns by that date. The above
ndings support the conclusion that in fal-
low deer does, high temperature differentials
between the underbelly and the control area
(side of the rump) are observed during preg-
nancy, in particular in the third trimester.
Our results also indicate that thermal
vision is not a highly reliable method for
detecting early pregnancy in fallow deer.
In this animal species, the winter hair coat
effectively insulates the body. Therefore, the
temperature measured on the surface of the
body can differ from actual skin tempera-
ture in the evaluated areas. It should also be
noted than in early stages of pregnancy, foe-
tal development proceeds at a slower rate, so
the changes in temperature on the surface of
the body are less pronounced.
Lactation Control
Thermograms of the udder area were ac-
quired between 15 May and 15 August 2012,
and the average differences in temperature
between the udder area (W) and the control
area on the rump (Z) were calculated (Table
3). The correlation matrix revealed a nega-
tive non-signicant correlation between the
observed temperature differentials and ambi-
Date of
measurement
Temperature differences (W-Z) in does Average
ambient T
2 3 neo 3 605 neo 11 202
15 May 13.4 5.4 10.9 5.5 13.5
23 May 8.2 14.0 10.7 8.2 20.6
6 June 5.5 7.9 7.1 9.9 15.7
15 June 6.4 7.0 5.9 7.4 20.8
22 June 8.6 7.4 7.0 9.2 20.9
30 June 10.4 10.1 10.1 9.5 18.0
4 July 7.7 6.9 6.9 7.1 22.2
13 July 10.3 9.0 9.5 9.4 18.9
18 July 9.6 7.3 8.8 9.9 19.1
25 July 7.6 5.6 7.9 6.5 26.2
1 August 9.4 6.8 8.9 8.5 20.5
8 August 7.9 8.7 8.7 8.9 20.3
15 August 8.4 10.4 9.0 9.9 18.8
Table 3. Average differences in temperature (T) between the udder (W) and the control area
(Z) in pregnant fallow deer does [°C]
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192
ent temperature. The above implies that the
lower the ambient temperature, the greater
the difference in temperature between the
udder and the control area. The average tem-
perature differentials between the examined
areas were determined between 5.5°C and
14°C, ranging from around 5°C to 10°C
in most cases. The greatest variations in
temperature differentials between the udder
and the control area were observed between
15 May and 6 June. In successive weeks,
until the end of the study, the differences in
temperature were less pronounced and less
varied in all does, and they were correlated
with ambient temperature. Temperature dif-
ferentials between the udder and the rump
increased steadily between 6 and 30 June.
This could be attributed to the fact that most
females had given birth during the above
period;. Therefore, the onset of lactation
could have provoked the observed increase
in udder temperature.
The inuence of ambient temperature
on temperature differentials between the
examined areas of the body, noted in our
study, is consistent with the earlier results.3
The absence of distinct variations in the
average temperature differentials in all does
could indicate that none of the evaluated
animals had suffered from mastitis or other
udder disorders that could increase surface
temperature.
There is a general scarcity of published
data about mastitis in farmed cervids.
However, mastitis is unlikely to be fre-
quent in female cervids which, unlike dairy
cattle, goats, and sheep, are not milked (the
only exception are the moose farmed in
Kostroma, Russia29). The mammary gland is
thus kept injury-free, excluding the inju-
ries caused by nursing fawns. According to
observations of nursing behaviour in fallow
deer, deer does determine the duration and
frequency of sucking and allosucking.11, 24
Younger and weaker does are often reluctant
to feed non-lial fawns. Intensive lactation
can deteriorate the female’s condition before
the mating season, which can lead to fertility
problems in a given year or delayed fertil-
ization.11 These observations indicate that
does control lactation by modifying their
behaviour toward fawns.
The obtained results indicate that
thermal vision can be a potentially useful,
non-invasive method in studies analysing
lactation in cervids. Thermographic mea-
surements can be used to monitor lactation
in various wildlife species, but only in indi-
viduals that are relatively tame, for example
in small farms and zoos.
Localisation of Hidden Fawns
Hiding fawns are localised to obtain infor-
mation about the beginning of the fawn-
ing period, the number of born and hiding
fawns, and to protect offspring against
danger (for example, when fawns are left
alone in an empty enclosure after herding).
An effective method of localising fawns/
calves in fawning/calving enclosures would
considerably improve the welfare of farmed
cervids.
The results of this study show that
thermal vision is an effective localisation
method despite certain limitations. Fawns
hidden in vegetation were identied with
the use of a thermographic camera from a
distance of up to 20 m. The effectiveness
of visualisation increased with a reduction
in distance. However, at a greater distance,
the heat emitted by fawns made it increas-
ingly difcult to distinguish the animal
from its surroundings (Fig. 5a, b, c). Tall
and dense vegetation between the camera
lens and the fawn was the greatest obstacle
in the localisation process. Very dense
vegetation blocked the heat emitted by the
animal even at a distance of several meters
from the thermographic camera. Bare soil
and stones were also strongly visualised in
thermograms, and they could be mistaken
for hiding fawns at a greater distance (Fig.
6a, b, c).
Our results are consistent with other
the ndings of other authors,4, 7 who found
that thermal vision was a useful method
for localising white-tailed deer calves, but
its effectiveness was signicantly limited
by dense vegetation. The cited authors
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018. 193
Figure 5. Thermograms of hiding neonatal fawns and images of the observed area captured
with a digital camera:
5a) distance of around 20m,
5b) distance of around 13m,
5c) distance of around 4m (arrows point to a hiding fawn).
Vol. 16, No.2, 2018 • Intern J Appl Res Vet Med.
194
Figure 6. Thermogram of a stone (a), close-up view (b), and a digital image of the same stone
(c).
observed that thermally active surfaces
(heated ground, stones, sites previously oc-
cupied by deer) can be mistaken for hiding
calves. Some authors also found that dense
vegetation, high humidity, and hilly terrain
can pose signicant obstacles to thermal
imaging of hiding animals.12, 13, 14, 20 One of
the greatest drawbacks of thermal imaging
is that measurement error cannot be reli-
ably estimated because the ratio of detected
individuals to the actual number of animals
in the surveyed area is unknown.
Despite the above limitations, thermal
imaging is an effective tool for preventing
dangerous situations that might arise when
does with older fawns are herded into a
different enclosure and neonatal fawns are
left alone in the deserted enclosure. Thermo-
graphic cameras can also be used to study
the animals’ hiding preferences and deter-
mine whether fawning enclosures in a farm
have a sufcient number of suitable hiding
sites. When fawns, in particular very young
animals, hide in inappropriate locations (by
the fence, in low grass in the sun, etc.), it
is highly likely that the number of suitable
hiding sites in the fawning enclosure is in-
sufcient. The resulting information can be
used to increase the availability of suitable
hideouts during the breeding season. Fawn-
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018. 195
ing enclosures can be set up in other loca-
tions that are overgrown with tall vegetation,
selected plants can be planted in autumn and
articial shelters can be introduced to create
visual barriers and shaded resting places.
CONCLUSIONS
Thermal vision systems can be used to
detect oestrus in farmed cervids, but they are
most effective when the surveyed animals
are relatively tame. In fallow deer does, ther-
mographic cameras do not support detection
of early pregnancy, and reliable information
is obtained only in the last trimester of preg-
nancy (April to June) when foetal develop-
ment is most rapid. The results of this study
indicate that thermal vision is a potentially
useful method for monitoring lactation in
cervids, but only in tamed animals. The
analysed method can also be used to localise
hiding fawns, but it produces reliable results
only when observations are performed at a
distance of up to 20 m.
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