MORE THAN $2m will be awarded to six projects which aim to use technology to improve broiler welfare.

The projects range from cameras that monitor flocks to detect disease to technology that ‘listens’ to broilers’ vocalisations to assess welfare and behaviour.

All aim to use technology to improve welfare monitoring and make it more objective. At present most welfare assessments rely on human-based and subjective observations.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), in collaboration with McDonald’s, made the grants as part of a first phase. 

More funding will potentially be available to the projects in phase two.

SMART Broiler

More than 40 proposals from 11 countries were submitted for the SMART (Sensors, Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technologies) project.  

The six taken through to phase one include Marian Dawkins’ OpticFlock system and Niamh O’Connell’s project using existing human crowd algorithms to analyse the behaviour of broilers.

‘Accurate assessments’

FFAR executive director Sally Rockey said: “Producers and consumers alike are eager to address animal welfare concerns. 

“This initiative seeks to remedy these concerns by developing technologies that provide consistent, timely and accurate welfare assessments on farms around the world.”

The six SMART Broiler Phase I winners in full are:

  1. Marian Dawkins with the University of Oxford, in partnership with Munters and Tyson Foods, is receiving $232,063 to test the ability of a novel camera/computer system called OpticFlock to monitor broiler chicken welfare. Cameras inside chicken houses monitor bird behavior and deliver a ‘verdict’ every 15 minutes to alert producers to early signs of broiler welfare issues, like foot pad lesions and lameness. Munters will help develop the technology so it can be commercialised as a standalone unit and as part of existing environmental monitoring technologies. By combining other environmental data factors, researchers intend to improve the quality of life for farmers and birds.
  2. Niamh O’Connell with Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with Moy Park, is receiving $310,738 to develop a vision-based system that leverages existing human crowd surveillance algorithms and applies them to the tracking and behavior analysis of broiler chickens. This will enable researchers to monitor large numbers of birds and track individual activity patterns, including welfare indicators such as gait score and feather cleanliness, in addition to natural behavior.
  3. Ingrid de Jong with Wageningen University & Research, and collaborators at Utrecht University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Virginia Tech, is receiving $500,000, with additional support provided by Plukon Food GroupCLK GmbH and Utrecht University for a total $610,000 award, to use an affordable camera-based system and artificial intelligence that automatically records broiler chicken behavior on-farm. The 2D and 3D cameras will continuously monitor broilers’ ability to walk, interact with each other and the environment, and other natural behaviors such as running, playing, foraging and dustbathing.
  4. Lasse Lorenzen with Scio+, Big Dutchman AG and SKOV A/S, with collaborators at KU LeuvenPurdue University and Aarhus University, is receiving $499,649, with additional support provided by Scio+ for a total $1,000,038 award. Scio+ et. al. is using camera technology and advanced image analysis to continuously monitor commercial broiler flocks, map welfare assessments and estimate walking ability.
  5. Hao Gan with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, in partnership with Mississippi State University and USDA-ARS and BioRICS NV, is receiving $350,000, with additional support provided by the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Peco Foods for a total $513,214 award. Gan is using multi-angle and multi-range cameras to monitor commercial broilers at both individual and flock levels and measure their walking ability and level of activity.
  6. Tom Darbonne and Dr. Brandon Carroll with AudioT, are receiving $200,000, with additional support provided by Tyson Foods and Fieldale Farms for a total $505,555 award to develop audio-based monitoring tools created on bird vocalisations that alert farmers to broiler welfare and behavior. Bird vocalisations can provide insight into flock activity welfare status. This project builds on 10 years of research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Agricultural Technology Research Program and will result in a scalable, low-cost sensor and analytics package complimentary to video-based systems.