Broilers fitted with leg tags by researchers to monitor behaviour

Scientists from Wageningen University & Research have carried out research into broiler activity by fitting tags to the legs of the birds, in order to record the activity levels of individual broilers throughout their life.

Researchers compared the system to  mobile apps such as Strava or Runkeeper. “When you go for a run, the app registers the time, your location and consequently the distance travelled.This allows you to show how active you have been. Our broilers are now doing the same,” said researcher Malou van der Sluis. 

Broilers were fitted with a small, lightweight radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on the leg from the day of hatching. The pen in which the animals were housed was equipped with a grid of RFID antennas under the floor. This RFID system allowed continuous tracking of the location of broilers in the pen.

“We can now estimate the level of activity of an individual broiler,” said van der Sluis. “That is valuable information for the farmer. This systems allows him to obtain detailed individual data on broiler location and activity throughout its life. This data can be valuable for assessing – and perhaps even predicting – health, welfare and performance of broilers. It potentially can be implemented in breeding programmes as well.”

No such system is currently available commercially, but the researchers said a smaller scale approach, for example using fewer antenna grid cells, might be feasible for large scale implementation. “An alternative focusing on flock level activity may also be a useful tool at commercial farm level, warning the farmer about changes in activity in the flock or distribution in the house,” said van der Sluis.

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