Engineers at Glasgow University are trying to sniff out a dairy herd problem with the help of an electronic nose.
John Barker, professor of electronics and electrical engineering, who is leading the group along with Jon Cooper, was co-founder of the original Warwick Electronic Nose project in the 1980s, now adopted by industry to detect odours.
The second generation nose aims to help agricultural and veterinary science by detecting the onset of oestrus, the state of being in heat. The farming industry is badly hit financially by the failure to detect oestrus, since this is the main reason for long calving intervals in the national herd. The nose will use a sophisticated software system which will identify odour "scenes" such as "a farmyard" or "a field", but will also be able to detect and amplify very small target odour signals.
The nose has to be able to sniff out these odours against the background of typical farmyard and animal smells, and the Silsoe Research Institute is developing ways of doing this.
London University's Royal Veterinary College, the third partner in the consortium funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will use the new technology to detect oestrus in cattle.