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Wellcalf Development

A new monitoring and management tool to detect bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in its early stages is being launched next month.

Well-Calf is a collaboration between Smartbell, Parklands Veterinary Group, Innovate UK, Agriepicentre and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

It has been developed to pick up sub-clinical BRD, so that affected calves can be isolated, minimising the spread of the disease, and treated sooner, reducing lung damage.

Clinical cases of BRD are the tip of the iceberg – a 15-month study by Zoetis showed 68% of apparently healthy calves had lung lesions associated with reduced weight gain.

How the system was developed

Earlier research at SRUC focused on the data needed to identify sick calves. This showed that calf activity and feeding behaviour differed between healthy and sick calves before the development of clinical symptoms of BRD.

Sick calves spent more time lying down and had longer bouts of lying in the three days before and after the “disease peak”. They also made fewer feeding visits and spent less time feeding each day during these periods.

The researchers concluded that there was scope to use these changes in behaviour to develop a health alert to get the farmer to check the calf, and that a system could be generated to help monitor and manage calves.

How Well-Calf works


Well-Calf gathers information at three levels via an ear tag:

  • Individual monitoring of calf activity, ear temperature and ambient temperature
  • Group data on humidity, barn temperature, volatile organic compounds and ammonia
  • Aggregated data on medical treatments, weight and feed

Any day-to-day anomalies in activity, behaviour or environmental conditions, and any differences between individual calves and their groups, are relayed to the farmer via an alert on their mobile device.