Wageningen research project developing ‘smart cameras’ for broilers

Wageningen Livestock Research, part of Wageningen University & Research, is developing a system that automatically analyses and interprets broiler behaviour. The system should provide poultry farmers with simple and affordable support in preventing leg problems with broilers and enhancing animal welfare.

Dr. Ingrid de Jong has received £415,000 (442,000 euros) for the research from the SMART Broiler Initiative. Thanks to support from Plukon Food Group, CLK GmbH and Utrecht University, the project budget amounts to a total of £506,000 (538,000 euros). The Swedish Lantbruk University and the American Virginia Tech are also partners in this project.

Current methods for assessing broiler chicken welfare on-farm rely on human observation. This is subjective, labour intensive and can lead to delayed intervention.

De Jong said: “We are researching whether we can continuously monitor and interpret the behaviour of broiler chickens with 3D infrared cameras. And of course, if we’ll be able to automatically alert the farmer where necessary. Filming animals is easy. Developing a system that analyses those images; that’s the challenge. Especially if you want to monitor animal behaviour in large groups. How do the chicks run, walk and play? How do they treat each other and their environment?”

The ultimate goal is a simple and affordable system that supports poultry farmers in enhancing animal welfare on their farm. For example, because they receive a signal when problems threaten to arise in a group of broilers. This allows them to intervene at an early stage.

De Jong added: “Large, expensive and complicated systems are often set up for these projects. A lot of energy is subsequently put in compressing these systems to make them applicable. For us, the simplicity and affordability of the system is the precondition. So we start exactly the other way around.”

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