Many feeder cattle companies currently conduct “slaughterability” assessments by sending cattle through a chute and photographing them from above with a CCTV or visible light camera that is connected to a computer system. The system’s software then examines the machine-vision image of the cow to determine the animal’s edge definition. By measuring the area inside the defined edges, the software can help measure the cow’s mass and determine if it will meet USDA standards for slaughter.

Overhead View of a Cow as seen through a thermal imaging camera.
Because much of the sizing is done outdoors, dust kicked up by the cattle interferes with the visible light camera system’s ability to judge an animal’s edge definition effectively. The differing colors on the cows, some of which are similar in color to the ground, can also make it difficult for the visible light camera systems to determine where the animal begins and the background ends. Attempts to fix these problems by increasing the amount of light shown down onto the cattle while they are being photographed can make the cows more nervous, causing them to stir up additional dust.

Replacing the CCTV and visible light cameras in these systems with a thermal imaging camera solves the aforementioned problems. Thermal imaging technology operates in the 7-14 micron range, enabling it to “see” through the dust. Additionally, measuring and displaying the animals’ thermal characteristics makes it is easy for software to distinguish the animal from the background – regardless of the animal and ground color. The consistent and reliable images allow the software to conduct accurate edge definition measurements, avoiding the expense of inaccurate sizing and grading. This gives the thermal imaging camera systems a high return on investment (ROI).

This article was contributed by Mike Studer, vice president of Marketing for L-3 Communications Infrared Products (Dallas, TX), formerly Raytheon Commercial Infrared. For more information, contact the author at (972) 344-4364 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit L-3 online at