Acumen Detection: An Udder Breakthrough

Published on Wed, 05/17/2017 - 11:44am

Acumen Detection: An Udder Breakthrough

By Steve Weisman

The health of dairy cattle is always on the mind of today’s dairy producer. Intermammary infections, such as mastitis, in a herd can be devastating and can cause substantial economic losses. Effective and economic control of these infections is paramount for the dairy industry.  That is where Acumen Detection, LLC ( is making huge strides in offering a quick and safe means of providing the capabilities that ensure quick, accurate determination of contamination or infection where the knowledge is needed: on the farm, in the field, and at the processing plant.

According to company president Tim Moshier, Acumen Detection’s on-farm system for identification of the causes of mastitis gives farmers the capability that’s missing from today’s on-farm culture systems; that is, the speed that’s required to make rapid, cost-effective and objective decisions.  “We want to be the company helping those that feed us, the consumer.”

Understanding the need for detecting mastitis on the farm.
Research has shown that mastitis affects one in every four dairy cows every year, and the cost of each case of mastitis can cost upwards of $400.00 per case due to non-saleable milk, decreased milk production, treatment costs, and replacement of the animal. The estimated losses from mastitis across the U.S. is estimated to be as high as $2 billion every year.
Selective treatment of clinical mastitis cases, dry cows, and new cows based on established pathogen profiles will dramatically reduce antibiotic use in the dairy industry, and can be done without short-or long-term negative consequences for milk quality and animal health.  On-farm detection can play a key role in supporting evidence-based treatment decisions. Current technologies are less than ideal because they require a time lag between detection of clinical mastitis and therapy decisions. A typical culture will take between 24-72 hours to show results, is subject to interpretation of the end-user, and even then, up to 40% of the time will show “no growth” in an obviously infected udder. That is because not every pathogen can be cultured successfully. Using an inefficient system affects both the utility of the technology, and the economics of a treatment program, because treatment delays (while waiting for culture results) for Gram-positive cases will influence overall cost. With increasing concern regarding antibiotic use in the dairy industry, developing technologies to aid in these treatment decisions should be an industry priority.

Acumen Detection: a difference maker
Realizing that any delays can be costly, Acumen Detection helps producers at the site, also known as the Point of Need (PoN), by providing a high performance, compact, rugged, easy to use system that will dramatically decrease the delays that currently occur when milk samples are sent off to centralized laboratories for analysis. Instead, PoN detection will identify the specific cause of a disease like mastitis right at the farm so that within 3 hours or so, accurate and immediate treatment can begin, milk losses will be reduced, and money saved.
Moshier sees this quick turnaround as a great benefit for dairy producers. At the same time, he says, “Our system gives farmers and their veterinarians the confidence of what to do next, and when and how to use, or not use, antibiotics.” At the same time, the product designers realize the importance of providing a product that producers have confidence in using and is cost effective. “Our goal has been to design a product that is user friendly right out of the box. We support producers by providing step by step instructions, videos that provide verbal explanations in multi-lingual audio (English and Spanish), and a chain of custody from cow-sample-assay-results-back to the cow, which can help eliminate the need for training.”
Acumen Detection provides lab-quality results without the need for messy culture plates, highly trained technicians and expensive facilities. Every step is controlled to ensure samples are accurately associated with specific animals or food lots, that the correct tests are done (and done correctly!), and that test results are then able to be accurately and automatically transferred to management databases. Even unique animal identification and tracking technologies are put into the system so that an animal needing treatment or removal from the herd can be easily identified. These capabilities are integrated into a low-cost and portable package that is also more environmentally friendly than current culture methods.
The figure below helps to illustrate how our system works. When a mastitic cow comes into the milking parlor, the herdsman will pull a sample into a bar-coded container. Our system will keep track of which quarter the sample came from, the cow’s ID, and the sample container number. The first test that is run is called the Presence of Mastitic
Bacteria Assay (POMBA). In less than 3 hours, that test will determine if pathogens are present in the milk, and will classify them as either Gram positive or Gram negative. If the POMBA assay is negative, as would be expected in about 40% of mastitic cows, then the farmer knows that cow doesn’t need treatment – actionable knowledge in less than 3 hours for about the same cost of the Minnesota Easy Culture System. If the POMBA assay indicates a Gram positive infection, the farmer is prompted to run two assays that determine if Staph aureus, Staph non-aureus bacteria, Strep uberis, or other Strep bacteria are present.  The farmer can also run the MYPRO assay to determine if either Prototheca or Mycoplasma are involved.

When should cows be tested for mastitis with Acumen’s detection kits?
There are multiple reasons why a farmer would want to test their cows with Acumen’s mastitis detection kits.   Some of these reasons are listed below;
• Clinical signs of mastitis

• At freshening
• At dryoff

• Baselining an entire herd
• Introduction of new cows to the herd

• If subclinical mastitis is suspected
• High SCCs

• High BTSCC
• Regular testing at organic farms


A history of helping
Moshier, who has a Masters of Science, Biology from Syracuse University, spent nearly five years as a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory followed by over nine years as Director of Chem Bio Research and Defense with the SRC, INC., an independent nonprofit research and development corporation that applies science, technology and information to solve problems in the areas of defense, environment and intelligence.
Then about 17 months ago, Moshier became president of Acumen Detection LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of SRC Inc. Acumen is a research, development and production company for novel, easy to use bio identification capabilities, trace chemical sampling and detection and chemical knowledge tools. Its focus is on food and agriculture safety, bringing fast, affordable, accurate, easy-to-use capabilities to farmers, producers and processors.

Acumen Detection uses its data and works closely with the Quality Milk Production Services Program (QMPS) out of New York.  QMPS offers a variety of services, notably on-farm evaluations of management and equipment and whole herd milk cultures. Based on the findings, the program’s extension veterinarians advise producers, veterinarians and milk inspectors regarding optimal practices for improving herd health and farm management.  QMPS provided Acumen with critical system requirements input; such as, the answers farmers needed first to make good decisions, and key human factors considerations.  QMPS has processed hundreds of mastitic milk samples through the Acumen system, and compared those results to their standard laboratory tests to give a “gold standard” comparison to evaluate system performance.   


Reaching out to producers
By the end of May, Acumen Detection will be offering its products to dairy producers across the country. Moshier says, “We have been working closely with commercial dairy farms in New York, sharing our data with QMPS and Cornell University. The results have been positive, and we are now ready to help dairy farmers across the country. We are hiring sales people, who will go out to farmers to demonstrate our products. Farmers can also contact us directly to set up an account or ask for a demo of our system.”
Acumen Detection is committed to improving the resilience and profitability of the dairy industry, and our system contributes to those goals by giving the farmer actionable knowledge, when it’s needed, where it’s needed.  Moshier adds, “We want to help farmers improve the bottom line and margin. We want to be part of the future by helping those who feed us!”