The Whisper digital auscultation (stethoscope) system, introduced in 2014, initially found use in feedlot hospitals, as a tool for assessing severity of respiratory cases and helping guide treatment decisions. Since then, Merck Animal Health purchased the technology from Geissler Corporation and has invested heavily in refining the system and expanding its capabilities.
The upgraded system, Nickell says, provides that predictive ability, allowing veterinarians and cattle feeders to benefit from metaphylaxis while reducing costs and enhancing antimicrobial stewardship. This type of technology, he adds, can help move livestock production closer to the “precision agriculture” strategies widely used in crop production.
The original Whisper system used a device that looks like a conventional stethoscope, which allowed the user to hear lung sounds while the digital system analyzed those sounds to create a 1-to-5 score indicating severity of BRD. The new system does away with the stethoscope device, and uses all-new analytical software. The device, which Nickell says resembles a “Swiffer” mop, features a rectangular reader with six sound sensors to heart and lung sounds. A long pole allows the user to stand away from the chute while pressing the sensor to the animal. A Bluetooth connection sends the auscultation data to a chute-side computer, and the crew adds numbers for body weight and rectal temperature. The user sets a threshold level, or a cutoff score determining which animals receive metaphylaxis, and the system provides a simple “treat” or “don’t treat” indication.
Merck recently completed four trials in commercial feedlots, one in Nebraska, one in Oklahoma and two in Texas, to assess the system’s predictive power and ability to reduce metaphylaxis treatments without negatively affecting health. Each of these trials, using medium- to high-risk calves, followed four treatment groups.
In all four trials, the positive control groups and both of the Whisper groups has statistically fewer pulls and BRD treatments compared with the negative control groups.
In the Whisper high groups, the blinded crews used metaphylactic treatments on 82% to 89% of arrivals, while in the Whisper low groups, the system identified 57% to 72% of arrivals as needing treatment. So, across the Whisper treatment groups, between 11% and 43% fewer cattle received metaphylaxis compared with the positive control groups. BRD morbidity, mortality, average daily gains and carcass characteristics were statistically equivalent for both Whisper groups compared with the positive control groups (100% metaphylaxis).
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