They say the spots on a Holstein are as unique as a human fingerprint. There might be an even better comparison for cattle, though — the animal’s muzzle.
Each muzzle has a unique pattern just like a fingerprint does, report Australian researchers. When that “muzzle print” is captured, it can be used to identify individuals. The scientists from the University of New England in Australia studied how this might be implemented to provide a more technological identification option for farmers that would eliminate the need for tagging or branding.
Their research, published in the journal Agronomy, consisted of taking close-up images of cattle faces with an 18-55 mm camera lens while the animals were restrained. Three hundred animals of mixed beef breeds were photographed.
From the photos that showed the muzzles accurately, the researchers then developed an algorithm that learned to extract the muzzle from the picture and then identify it after viewing just five training images of that animal. The first iteration achieved 99.11% identification accuracy, and with improvements to the algorithm since the study was published in 2021, the team reported that accuracy bumped up to 99.46%. They say it should be effective in a variety of cattle breeds.
With the research that tests the concept of muzzle identification completed, the Australian team’s lead, Ali Shojaeipour, said they are now working on how the information could be applied for dairy farms and bringing a product to commercial availability. They have received positive feedback on it, he added. Technological tools have already changed the way many farms track and monitor dairy animals, and now they may be able to help farms more efficiently find the cows that need attention, too.
The idea of identifying cattle by a nose print might seem far-fetched, but it is not much different from how we as humans can unlock our phones with our fingerprint or face. If it helps streamline dairy tasks in the same way, it could have a place on the farms of the future.