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Scientists Devise Breathalyser for Cows

A breathalyser being used to detect ketosis in cows
A breathalyser being
used to detect ketosis in cows

Originally Published 20 August 1996

Researchers from the University of Warwick and Southampton University have completed the first year of a three year study funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to construct a special breathalyser to detect diseases in cows.

The researchers have developed their work on a generic "electronic nose" to sample the acetone levels in a cows breath in order to detect ketosis in cows. Cows can develop ketosis, which can leads to coma and death, when cattle food has too high a concentration of protein.

When a cow has advanced ketosis vets and herdspeople can often smell acetone on their breath. This machine will be able to detect this problem much earlier in the cycle of the disease and with greater accuracy than a trained human nose. The breathalyser needs to sample around half a litre of cow's breath which is no real problem as cows exhale up to four litres with each breath.

The breathalyser does not measure the absolute level of acetone but uses the machine's in built artificial intelligence to measure the effect of each cow's breath on a series of electronic sensors and compares the results with those for healthy animals.

There are plans to use the machine in an automated milking parlour to detect if a cow’s teats are clean and researchers are also optimistic that the machine can play a role in oestrus detection. Variations on the nose technology at the heart of this cattle breathalyser have are also being employed by the research teams in a number of other areas including production of a hand held device to locate aromatic truffles under ground, quality control in food and drinks production, and pollution monitoring for cars.

For further information please contact:

Dr Julian Gardner
Department of Engineering
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523695