FARM INTERVENTIONS CASE STUDY 1: Diagnostics, detection of hazards on the farm: direct & indirect detection methods

Introduction by: Patrik Buholzer & Marco De Nardi

Diagnostics play an important role when it comes to recognising and identifying diseases in livestock. They are an essential prerequisite for deciding on appropriate measures and treatment of diseased animals as well as for preventive measures. An appropriate treatment is not only important for a fast recovery of the diseased animal, it is also important to stop or at least minimize the spread of diseases. Furthermore, it helps to reduce the use of antibiotics and with it the risk of the development and spread antibiotic resistance. Diagnostics do not only help to protect animals they also help to prevent spillover from animals to humans. May it be through direct contact or indirectly through contaminated animal products or contaminated water and soil. The continuous expansion of humanity and with them their livestock into previously uninhabited areas harbour additional risks. Climate change induced propagation of vectors and adapted behaviour of wild animals, such as migratory birds and global interconnected trade networks can bring new diseases close to us. The appearance of new diseases needs to be taken into account when it comes to early and comprehensive detection of animal diseases in livestock.

A fast and early detection of diseases is crucial and the prerequisite to react appropriately and fast, being able to introduce counter measures and to contain the spreading of diseases. For that reason, early detection systems need to be put in place. Building these systems should take into account different diagnostic applications and the use of different sources of data and information. It is important to see diagnostics not only as a test that is conducted in a laboratory, but also as the use of data from multiple sources to obtain a better, more complete picture. However, just collecting data for the sake of collecting data is not good enough. The appropriate data must be collected and collated, data that will help to enable early detection. But where do we need to apply diagnostics and what kind of diagnostics shall be applied? How can we obtain information that enables early detection? What data can we use and how should we combine them?

There are different places where we can apply diagnostics and collecting data. We also need to broaden our definition of diagnostics. Diagnostics are far more than just the detection of nucleic acids or antibodies. The use of cameras to monitor movement or temperature of animals or acoustic detectors that can recognise coughing animals are more and more entering the stable and offer new diagnostic possibilities. Beside new technologies, approaches addressing the entire herd and not only the individual animal need to be considered as well. Sampling methods like oral fluids from chewing ropes, processing fluids (e.g., during castration) or samples collected at the abattoir and analysed for specific diseases can help to gain a more comprehensive picture about the health status of a herd or a flock.

There are, of course, some important factors that need to be considered to obtain the most comprehensive picture possible. There are on one hand technical requirements such as sample quality, appropriate sample selection and appropriate diagnostic method. On the other hand, there is the questions of where to take the sample and where to conduct the analysis. Is the farm the right point or should it be at the abattoir? Should the sample be sent to a lab for analysis or analysed directly at the farm? Beside the more technical questions, another important aspect is the flow of information and the sharing of data. Only if information is shared along the production chain it can be combined and used to monitor and survey herds and flocks, detecting diseases early.

Goal of the workshop:

In this workshop we will discuss and explore how surveillance and monitoring programs could be set-up and combined to obtain the most out of the gained data. We will discuss the use of Point-of-Care testing and in which cases they are useful, and at which point more traditional lab diagnostic is the better choice. We will also discuss the use sampling animals at the abattoir for the purpose to gain information about the health status of the herd or the flock. Finally, we will discuss the use of new technologies, such as sound recognition system and cameras and their value for animal health and welfare.

Structure of the workshop:

The participants will choose a topic below and prepare an overview about the approach and how they see the advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, it shall be addressed on how their approach fits into a broader context and with what other methods or approaches it should be combined. Each participant will present their findings and conclusions during the workshop. Afterwards, the findings and conclusion will be discussed in the workshop group.
In the second part the group will put together their optimal approach for a comprehensive surveillance and monitoring concept, compromising of different technologies and concepts.


  • The use of oral fluids for herd health monitoring?
  • The use of Point of care diagnostics: Where are they useful? What are their limits?
  • The use of new technologies for herd and flock health monitoring e.g. acoustics, cameras etc.
  • Taking samples at abattoir for herd and flock health monitoring: what are the benefits and what are the challenges.
  • Use of data and information: How we can use information and data from different sources? What information and data should be used?
  • Alternative samples: What kind of samples could be used for diagnostic purposes which are currently not or only used on rare occasions?