Crowd monitoring in dairy cattle : Real-time VOC profiling by direct mass spectrometry
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from breath, faeces or skin may reflect physiological and pathological processes in vivo. Our setup employs real-time PTR-TOF-MS to explore VOC emissions of dairy cows in stable air under field conditions. Within one herd of 596 cows, seven groups (8-117 cows per group) were assessed. Groups differed in milk yield and health status (two contained cows with paratuberculosis, a chronic intestinal infection). Each group arrived one after another in the area of air measurement in front of the milking parlour. A customised PTR-TOF-MS system with a 6 m long and heated transfer line, was used for measuring VOCs continuously for 7 hours in 1.5 meter above the cows. Three consecutive time periods were investigated. Twenty-seven VOCs increased while animals were gathering in the waiting area, and decreased when animals entered the milking parlour. Linear correlations between the number of animals present and VOC concentrations was found for (C4H6)H+ and (C3H6O)H+. Relatively high concentration of acetone above cows that gave recently birth to a calf might be related to increased fat turnover due to calving and different nutrition. Changes in VOC emissions were related to the presence of animals with paratuberculosis, to different average milk yield per group and to the time of the day (morning versus noon milking time). In a perspective, VOC monitoring of stable air may provide additional immediate information on animal metabolic or health status and foster novel applications in the field of breath research. .