Veterinary Handbook Disease Finder

Veterinary Handbook Contents

3.2 Inspection Methods

The method of inspection of animals in pens should be systematic and able to detect low levels of abnormalities among large numbers of animals while not being overly time consuming or exhausting. The Gunson Method[1] has these attributes and can achieve inspection rates of 1000 cattle per hour. Although originally developed for cattle, the principles are applicable to sheep and goats. It is recommended to newly accredited stockpersons and veterinarians accompanying livestock vessels, recognising that over time experienced personnel may develop their own inspection methods.
1. Developed by Barry Gunson, experienced stockperson

3.2.1 The Gunson Inspection Method

There are two key features to the Gunson method. The first is to scan one anatomical location (such as legs) of all cattle in one pen at a time. This makes it easier to detect differences between cattle. A swollen leg will stand out among the forest of normal legs. The second principle is to limit the scan to the three anatomical locations of lower legs, heads and left flanks. This is because most of the diseases and conditions of exported livestock will express themselves in one or more of these three locations. Lower legs will reveal swelling from infection or non-weight bearing from pain. Heads will reveal the healthy sign of cud chewing but may also reveal eye, nose and mouth problems, respiratory effort or altered demeanour. Flanks may reveal abnormal distension of the rumen, prominence of transverse processes, abnormalities in body condition, and may be involved in changes of respiratory character. 

The Gunson method is different to the conventional approach which is to scan one animal entirely before scanning the next animal. The conventional approach is time consuming, mentally fatiguing and may miss cattle as they move around. 

The Gunson method is best used around feeding time when cattle tend to be standing and facing the front of the pen, or, alternatively, after washing of decks (but before spreading sawdust when the cattle will start lying down). 

The method is as follows:
Slowly make your way along the front of the pen from left to right and, with a cattle talker[2], gently force the cattle back and away from the front of the pen. While doing this, bend forward so that with a strong torch the lower legs of the cattle can be scanned, including those at the back of the pen. Change focus to examine near and distant legs as you scan across the pen. Cattle that are lying down should be encouraged to stand.

While bending forward (to look at legs) place one arm (with the cattle talker) on a rail for support and to use the cattle talker to move aside cattle that are obstructing your view. This gives a better angle at which to look at their lower legs. By waving the flappers of the cattle talker in the air, cattle tend to keep their heads up to look at it. 

Next, make your way back along the front of the pen from right to left and scan the left flanks. If the cattle are facing the front of the pen this puts the left flank of most cattle in a clearly viewed position. 

Next scan heads by making your way back again from left to right along the front of the pen. Some moving back and forth along the front of the pen and bending and weaving may be required to observe all cattle. 

Note the colour and consistency of faeces and urine should an animal decide to defecate or urinate during the inspection. 

Pens may be scanned one at a time, in multiples or even for the length of a deck. The latter is often quicker. 

Cattle that remain down during the inspection (while others are standing) should raise suspicions. Cattle detected down at the initial leg inspection will sometimes voluntarily stand up by the end of the inspection. If they don’t, you should try and encourage animals to stand up for a thorough individual inspection. 

Before moving on to inspect another pen, scan floor conditions and contents of feed and water troughs. 

When cattle are identified with problems, record their management ear tag numbers and perhaps a brief description (i.e. small black, large white, horn stumps), so that they can easily be found later for treatment or recheck. 

The Gunson method (or modifications thereof) is recommended for inspection of animals during selection for entry into the live export process, and during the export process, especially at sea. 

The following checklist of comparative observations between pens and between individuals within pens is useful when inspecting animals.
2. Cattle talker – a hand held 1.2m length of green conduit pipe with numerous 20cm yellow plastic flapping fronds fixed to one end that is used to encourage cattle to move in and between yards. Between Pen (Group) Comparisons

  • Amounts of unconsumed feed in feed troughs
  • Numbers of animals chewing their cud
  • Numbers of recumbent versus standing animals
  • Faecal consistency, colour, smell and presence of blood staining
  • Urine colour
  • Amount of discharges in feed troughs (causing wet feed) and on pen rails
  • Respiratory rates, coughing levels and mental demeanour
  • Manure contamination of hair/wool coats Within Pen (Or Individual) Comparisons

  • Posture and demeanour
  • Faecal consistency, colour, smell and presence of blood staining
  • Urine colour
  • Prolonged recumbency, reluctance to rise or difficulty rising
    • Recumbent animals chewing their cud and ruminating are unlikely to be sick or in pain. Recumbent animals are unlikely to lie on a sore foot or leg so check the outstretched foot and leg carefully.
  • Non or partial weight bearing of limbs when standing
    • Scanning across the backs of animals may detect dropped shoulders or hips
    • Scanning of legs may detect animals standing with legs partially flexed
  • While cattle on long-haul voyages are usually scanned twice daily for swellings, the best inspection of legs is able to be done immediately after deck washing which occurs every few days
  • Swellings or discharges affecting heads, feet, flanks and rumps

Be aware that some sick animals will be suffering from multiple concurrent diseases such as foot abscess and nasal discharge and hence may present with a confusing clinical picture.

Use timing of observations to your advantage:

  • Before feeding - detects uneaten feed
  • During feeding - detects animals that are low on the pecking order or inappetent or both
  • Post feeding - detects stock not resting and ruminating (healthy stock would normally rest and ruminate)
  • Post deck washing - detects lameness and limb injures (for the short period (15min or so) post deck washing, stock remain standing and legs are clean making it a good time to examine for lameness and injuries - use a powerful torch)