The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and McDonald’s has announced that Professor Niamh O’Connell from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast, is one of six recipients funded in Phase 1 of the SMART Broiler programme.
SMART Broiler is a research initiative that is awarding over $4m in grants and technical support to develop automated monitoring tools that precisely assess chicken welfare.
Professor O’Connell, in partnership with Northern Ireland poultry producer, Moy Park, will use the funding to develop a vision-based system that leverages novel crowd analysis research and applies it to the tracking and behavioural analysis of a flock of chickens.
In this way, the researchers can monitor large numbers of birds, track their activity patterns and gather welfare indicators such as gait, feather cleanliness and incidents of play behaviour.
In terms of the feed related work, the professor told this publication: “We hope to be able to monitor interactions with feeders and therefore to gain a greater understanding of feeding behaviour in a commercial setting, but we will not be assessing the effects of particular nutritional treatments in this project.”
O’Connell is set to collaborate with experts in video analytic techniques, based at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) at Queen’s, in the initiative.
'Enormous opportunities to the agri-food sector'
Current methods for assessing chicken welfare on farm often rely on human observation, which may be subjective and result in delayed intervention. SMART Broiler is developing automated sensors, monitoring, analysis and reporting technologies to objectively and comprehensively assess welfare worldwide.
O’Connell said that using vision-based technologies to monitor animal behaviour offers enormous opportunities to the agri-food sector. “Working with Moy Park, this project will trial the technology with poultry, and will help us better understand how the birds engage with their environment and each other. “
Ursula Lavery, technical and R&D director Europe, Moy Park said the project offers the potential to really bring a step change in how to measure the positive welfare indicators of birds.
Dr Paul Miller, research director of security intelligence at the ECIT institute, said: "Our video analytics research has been focused on enhancing resilience of large crowds of people found in, for example, a sports stadium or a railway station. Now we will adapt our work to understand the behaviour of a flock of birds. This will be very challenging, but the insights gathered will enable Professor O'Connell's team to design better environments for rearing birds."