‘Ingenious’ animal welfare monitoring technique
SCIENTISTS have unveiled an ‘ingenious’ new small camera and computer set-up they claim will improve the welfare of farmed animals in future.
The new technology is primarily designed to monitor the welfare of broiler chickens.
It entails a small box containing a camera and computer mounted on the wall in a chicken shed. It uses a technique called ‘optical flow’ to monitor the shifting patterns of movement in the flock.
If there are a lot of slow-moving birds the overall pattern of movement is disrupted and the monitoring device detects that there may be a welfare issue such as illness or lameness in a proportion of the birds.
The welfare of broiler chicken flocks is often assessed by examining the health of the birds’ feet and legs at the point of slaughter. The alternative is to have teams of people go into poultry sheds and assess how well the birds are walking and moving around, eventually calculating a so-called ‘gait score’.
The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Animal Welfare Programme, was due to be presented later today (Tuesday, February 22), at a BBSRC event in London.
Lead researcher Professor Marian Dawkins, University of Oxford said “We have been working from the outset with industry partners to ensure that we develop something that is useful on commercial farms and is an improvement on the traditional ways of measuring the welfare of animal flocks.”
“Waiting until the birds are slaughtered is obviously not an ideal way of monitoring animal welfare on farms and the gait score method is rather labour intensive and expensive for an industry that is already hard pressed by cheap imports.
“Our invention correlates well with the gait score method and is at least as sensitive at picking up the very early warning signs that something is wrong. It has the potential to become totally automated to raise an alarm when a problem is detected.”
Professor Dawkins and her team are now working to test the system further in order to develop it as an ‘important management and welfare managing tool’.
Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive, BBSRC said “With an increased emphasis on food production we must never lose sight of the importance of farm animal welfare.
“We must use science to assess welfare levels, spot issues and intervene early to ensure that the health and wellbeing of farmed animals is protected.”